A study comparing 2 different types of central lines in people due to start a course of chemotherapy

Cancer type:

All cancer types




Phase 2

This study compared different ways of giving chemotherapy. It recruited people who had chemotherapy using devices called portacaths and central lines to look at the overall health and cost benefit. The trial was for people who had treatment at Inverclyde Royal Infirmary or the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow.

More about this trial

If you have chemotherapy through a drip into a vein, you usually have a small, thin plastic tube (cannula) put into a vein in your hand or arm. Your nurse takes the cannula out after each treatment. But if you are having chemotherapy over a long period, you may have a device that stays in one of your veins for as long as it is needed. Examples of these are central lines and portacaths.

A portacath is a small chamber that sits under the skin of your chest, with a tube running into a vein in your chest. It is completely enclosed in your body, and usually it is only possible to see it under your skin if you are very thin. Your nurse can take blood or connect a drip by putting a special needle into this chamber that can stay in place for as long as needed.

A central line is a tube that also sits in a vein in your chest, but the other end of the tube comes out onto your chest so that it can be connected to a drip.

Doctors use portacaths less often because they are a little more complicated to put in than central lines. But portacaths may be better. Several studies have suggested that there is less risk of the device getting infected and having to be replaced. There may also be an improvement in quality of life Open a glossary item.

This study compared central lines with portacaths. The aim was to assess the overall health and cost benefit in patients who had a central line compared to those with a portacath.

Summary of results

The trial team found that people with portacaths had fewer complications and spent less time in hospital. They also found that these devices were more cost effective.

This was a phase 2 trial. It was a randomised trial that recruited 100 people. They were put into 1 of 2 groups and neither they nor their doctor could choose which group they were in.

  • 76 were randomised to have a central line
  • 24 were randomised to have a portacath

When the researchers looked at how many people had complications they found that it was

  • Nearly half the people (47%) who had a central line
  • Just over quarter of the people (27%) who had a portacath

This was statistically significant Open a glossary item as the difference could not have happened by chance.

The most common complication of the central line was an infection in the blood.

The most common complication of the portacath was a blockage in the line. There were no reported infections in people who had portacaths.

The researchers looked at how many days people spent in hospital or went to outpatients. They found that 22 people with central lines needed to go into hospital. The average length of time they stayed in was 6 nights. And 11 people with a central line went to outpatients.

Nobody with a portacath needed to stay in hospital, but 4 of them attended outpatients.

They also worked out the average cost per patient of having a central line or a portacath. For a central line it was £2,099 and for a portacath it was £364.

The trial team concluded that having a portacath was more cost effective than having a central line. A larger trial involving many hospitals is needed to confirm these results.

We have based this summary on information from the research team. As far as we are aware, the information they sent us has not been reviewed independently (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) or published in a medical journal yet. The figures we quote above were provided by the research team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.


Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Jon Moss

Supported by

Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit, Glasgow
Chief Scientist Office (CSO)
Cook Medical
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer

If you have questions about the trial please contact our cancer information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle - 8994

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Charlie took part in a trial to try new treatments

A picture of Charlie

“I think it’s really important that people keep signing up to these type of trials to push research forward.”

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