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Vascular surgeon

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Many patients require drugs and other treatments to be given into their veins.  Sometimes it is possible to use the small peripheral veins in the hands and arms for this purpose.  However, for some treatments, such as chemotherapy, the peripheral veins may not be suitable; or it may be that the doctors and nurses find it very difficult to get needles into your peripheral veins. In these circumstances, it is common to give the treatment via one of the large central veins such as the axillary vein, which sits underneath the collar bone, or the internal jugular vein at the base of the neck.  A central venous catheter (or central line) is a long, hollow tube that is inserted into one of the central veins.  One end of the catheter (the distal end) is normally positioned near to the entrance to the heart and the other end (the proximal end) will either:


  • Come straight out of the neck or chest - this is a temporary central venous catheter and it is not usually left in for more than a week or two.
  • Come straight out of the upper arm near to the elbow - this is a Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter (PICC) and can often be left in for a few months.
  • Travel underneath the skin for a short distance and come out on the chest wall. This is called a tunnelled central venous catheter and can usually be left in for many months or even years. The reason it is tunnelled is to reduce the chance of infection and to 'anchor' the line.
  • Join to a special injection port that is buried underneath the skin - this is a Portacath and it can usually be left in for many months or even years.

The catheters can also be used for blood tests. The type of line that is most suitable for you will depend on your underlying condition, the treatment you are having, and how long you are having treatment for.