PICC Lines (peripherally inserted central catheter)

A peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC line) is a type of central line. You might have one for chemotherapy and other drugs and fluids. Sometimes you might be able to have blood samples taken from it.

It is a long plastic tube that goes into a vein in your arm. It ends in a large vein close to your heart. At the end of the length of line that you can see, there are connection ports where the nurse attaches your chemotherapy. The connection ports are kept closed with caps. 

A doctor or nurse insert your PICC line under local anaesthetic. They will use an ultrasound machine to help find the best vein to use. You might have an ECG or x-ray afterwards to make sure the end of the tube is in the best place.

Your PICC line can stay in for several months. It is held in place with a special clip and will have a clear plastic dressing over the top. This means you won't need to have needles into your hand or arm each time you have your chemotherapy treatment.

Diagram showing a PICC line
Diagram showing a PICC line
Photograph of a PICC line on an arm
Photograph of a PICC line on an arm

Possible problems

Sometimes problems can happen with PICC lines:

  • you may get an infection

  • the line may get blocked

  • a blood clot can develop

  • a PICC line may split, but this is very rare

Your nurse will test your PICC line each time they use it. They will check for blood return and inject it with salt water (saline). This is called flushing. It’s very important to tell your nurse if you experience pain as the line is flushed or during chemotherapy. This could mean the line has split.

If you are not having treatment regularly, you or your nurse need to clean and flush the line weekly. It is flushed with saline to clean the line and prevent clotting. The nurses on the ward can teach you or your carer how to do this. Your district nurse can care for your line or help you at home at first.

It is very important to avoid getting an infection in the area where your line goes into your body. Speak to your chemotherapy nurse or doctor if you notice any redness, swelling, oozing or soreness. These could be signs of infection.

You need to have treatment with antibiotics straight away if you do develop an infection. Otherwise, a doctor or nurse may have to remove the line and put a new one in.

Everyday life with a PICC line

You can go home with a PICC line in place. There are very few restrictions to your everyday life.

It’s fine to have a bath or shower. You can get waterproof covers. Don't let your PICC line go under water in the bath unless you have one.

These covers are good enough to use for swimming. But it’s important to check with your doctor first if you’re having chemotherapy. There may be an infection risk from using a public pool. 

Check with your healthcare team before doing any activities that use your arm a lot. This includes tennis, golf or heavy lifting. This could make the line move.

Before you go home, make sure you’re confident about looking after your line. Ask the staff on the ward if you’re not sure about anything. They can arrange for district nurses to visit you at home to help with the line until you feel confident.

Contact your advice line if you have any problems at home.

  • Central venous access in oncology: ESMO clinical practice guidelines
    B Sousa and others
    Annals of Oncology, 2015. Volume 26. Pages V152-V168

  • Standards for infusion therapy (4th edition)
    Royal College of Nursing 2016
    Accessed November 2023

  • Cancer: Principles and practice of oncology (12th edition)
    VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg 
    Wolters Kluwer, 2023

  • Cancer Chemotherapy in Clinical Practice
    T Priestman
    Springer, 2012

  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical and Cancer Nursing Procedures (10th edition, online)
    S Lister, J Hofland and H Grafton
    Wiley Blackwell, 2020

Last reviewed: 
16 May 2024
Next review due: 
17 May 2027

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