PICC Lines (peripherally inserted central catheter)

You can have chemotherapy and other drugs and fluids through a PICC line. 

PICC stands for Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter. It’s a type of central line.

The line goes into a vein in your arm, under local anaesthetic. A doctor or nurse can put it in during an outpatient appointment. The line runs up the vein inside your arm and ends up in a large vein in your chest.

PICC lines can be left in for several months and used in a similar way to other central lines.

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

The line is flushed regularly with heparin (an anti clotting drug) or salt water (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 help you at home at first.

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

You’ll 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.

If you are not having treatment regularly, you or your nurse needs to clean and flush the line regularly to keep it clear and to stop you developing any problems.

This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.

  • Standards for infusion therapy (4th edition)

    Royal College of Nursing 2016

    Accessed November 2017

  • Cancer: Principles and practice of oncology (11th edition)
    V T De Vita, S Hellman and S A Rosenberg 
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

  • Handbook of Cancer Chemotherapy (8th edition)
    R T Skeel and S N Khleif

    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2011

  • The Royal Marsden Hospital Manual of Clinical Nursing Procedures (10th edition)
    S Lister and others
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2020

Last reviewed: 
01 Jul 2020
Next review due: 
01 Jul 2023

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