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Central venous catheter

A central venous catheter (CVC) is a thin, flexible tube (catheter) that is placed into the large vein above the heart, usually through a vein in the neck, chest or arm. It’s also called central venous line or central line.

A central venous catheter can be used to give chemotherapy drugs. Some CVCs have more than one lumen (opening) and can be used to give more than one drug at a time. Central venous catheters can be left in place for weeks to months. With a CVC, a person does not need as many injections and there will be less damage to their veins. The main complications of CVC are infection and blood clots.

A person may have a central venous catheter for one or more reasons, including to:

  • receive chemotherapy drugs
  • receive intravenous (IV) fluids
  • receive antibiotics
  • receive blood and platelet transfusions
  • receive nutrition (parenteral nutrition)
  • provide blood samples


The 3 types of central venous catheters most commonly used are:

Choosing a central venous catheter

There are benefits and drawbacks to each type of catheter. There is no right or wrong choice, just different options. It’s important to talk over the pros and cons of each type of CVC with the healthcare team to find out which type of catheter is best for you or your child.

Pros and cons of different central venous catheters
Things to considerTunnelled central venous catheterSubcutaneous portPeripherally inserted central catheter (PICC)

Infection rate








Body image

tube outside body

lump under skin

tube outside body


dressing changes

  • dressing changes
  • needle poke to access port

dressing changes

Risk of drugs leaking into tissues





  • easy to insert and remove
  • different lumen (opening) choices so more than one drug can be given at the same time
  • easily repaired
  • no needle pokes
  • hidden under skin
  • no external line
  • no daily care
  • useful if anesthesia is not an option
  • easy to insert and remove
  • easily repaired


  • daily care required
  • expensive supplies
  • may restrict activities
  • family caregivers require training
  • not repairable
  • skill needed to access the port
  • special needle required
  • more difficult to remove
  • break and clot easily
  • daily care required
  • expensive supplies
  • may restrict activities
  • family caregivers require training


Central venous catheters need special care. They may require regular cleaning or dressing changes using sterile techniques. CVCs need to be flushed regularly with a special sterile solution to keep them from getting blocked when not in use.

Some problems that can occur with a central venous catheter include:

  • infection
  • blood clots
  • blockage
  • movement out of position
  • breakage

intravenous (IV)

Within or into a vein (a blood vessel that carries blood from tissues and organs in the body to the heart).


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