Ask the Helpline

BCNA’s Helpline includes experienced cancer nurses who provide support and information.

Though the Helpline can’t provide personalised medical advice, the team can talk to you about concerns you may be experiencing and refer you to supports available to assist you.

Here, the Helpline answers some common questions about breast cancer and its treatments.

What is a port? Should I get one for chemotherapy?

A port is small device with a slender, flexible tail that is fed into one of the major veins near the heart. It provides access to the blood stream.

A port may be suggested if you are having chemotherapy or other infusions over a long period of time, or if you have fine or fragile veins.

The port is implanted under the skin, usually on the upper chest wall. A minor operation is needed and may be done with local anaesthetic and light sedation. The port creates a small raised area under the skin about the size of a 10-cent piece. It may be more prominent in people with less body fat.

When not in use, you can shower, swim and exercise as usual as the port is completely sealed beneath the skin. A port can stay in place for as long as required, but must be regularly flushed so it doesn’t get blocked.

Having a port means that when you have chemotherapy, a special needle will go through your skin and into the port, rather than having a needle inserted into a vein. The port can be also be used for blood tests and avoids having multiple needles or issues finding a suitable vein for the intravenous cannula (IV) each chemo session.

A port can only be accessed by a nurse who has been assessed as competent. It needs specific equipment and technique to minimise the risk of infection, blockages and blood clots.

Some people decide not to have a port as they don’t want another procedure.

Others don’t like being able to see the port under their skin. Some decide the risks outweigh the benefits. Please speak to your treatment team about whether a port is right for you.

Can I take herbs and supplements while I’m having breast cancer treatment?

It’s important you speak to your treatment team about any herbs or supplements you are using or thinking of using during breast cancer treatment. Some herbs and supplements can interfere with treatments and make them less effective. For example, vitamin C supplements can interfere with some chemotherapy drugs, and St John’s Wort can reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen and some chemotherapies.

The US-based Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has evidence-based information on herbs, botanicals, vitamins and other supplements on its website. This includes information about effects, side effects and drug interactions, as well as links to scientific research. The site also has information on a free downloadable app, About Herbs. Visit mskcc.org and search ‘herbs’.

Can I exercise during breast cancer treatment?

There is abundant research about the benefits of exercise during and after treatment for breast cancer. Exercise can improve your physical and emotional wellbeing, and help with managing side effects.

As with any exercise program, it is recommended you speak to your GP or treatment team before you start.

The type and amount of exercise will depend on your current health and fitness level. You may need to start gently and gradually build up. There are many forms of exercise and there is exercise suitable for any fitness level, such as walking, swimming, yoga, cycling, dancing and dragon boat rowing.

Contact our Helpline

Call our Helpline on 1800 500 258 for free and confidential information, support and referral.
You can also contact our Helpline by emailing contact@nullbcna.org.au.
You can join our online network at bcna.org.au/onlinenetwork.

Issue 82
Autumn 2018