OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the complication rates associated with indwelling venous access devices in patients with gynecologic malignancies. METHODS: Following IRB approval, a computerized database identified women that had indwelling access devices placed for chemotherapy from March 1999 to June 2001. A retrospective chart review identified 116 venous access devices that were placed in 104 patients. All devices were silicone and had a closed tip design with a three-position valve. Data were collected on patient demographics, clinicopathologic features, type of venous device, and complications. The chi(2) test was used for statistical analysis. RESULTS: Of the 104 patients, 79 had ovarian cancer, 11 had uterine cancer, 10 had cervical cancer, 2 had fallopian tube cancer, and 2 had vaginal cancer. The median age was 61 years. There were a total of 116 venous devices placed: 65 external catheters (EC) and 51 subcutaneous ports (SP). Seventy-nine percent of the patients were administered low-dose coumadin (1 mg/day) for catheter clot prophylaxis. There were three operative complications in the EC group and two in the SP group (P = NS). The most common postoperative complications were infection and thrombosis. Nineteen patients in the EC group experienced a catheter-related infection versus 5 in the SP group (P = 0.025). In the EC group, there were 11 cases of site infection and 8 cases of line sepsis. In contrast, there were 3 cases of exit site infection and 2 cases of line sepsis in the SP group. Deep vein thrombosis occurred in 5 patients with EC and 3 patients with SP (P = NS). Twenty-seven patients with EC had the device removed for catheter-related complications versus 2 patients with SP (P = 0.001). Six patients inadvertently removed their EC. CONCLUSION: There is a significantly higher postoperative complication rate in gynecologic oncology patients with external catheters versus subcutaneous ports. Infection and catheter-related malfunction are more common in patients with external catheters. We recommend the use of subcutaneous ports in the majority of patients with gynecologic malignancies.