Background Cephalic vein (CV) cutdown approach for chronic indwelling central venous access device (CICVAD) placement has previously been shown to be technically feasible in 82% of cancer patients. No data are available as to the potential utilization of external jugular vein (EJV) cutdown approach in cancer patients when CV cutdown approach is not technically feasible. Patients and methods One hundred and twenty consecutive cancer patients were taken to the operating room with the intention of placing a CICVAD. All patients were first subjected to attempted CV cutdown approach. If CV cutdown approach was unsuccessful and there were no contraindications to establishing central venous access in the ipsilateral neck region, an ipsilateral EJV cutdown approach was attempted. Results Ninety-five cancer patients (79%) underwent CICVAD placement via CV cutdown. Of those 25 patients in which CV cutdown was not technically feasible, 7 had a contraindication to establishing central venous access in the ipsilateral neck region and a CICVAD was placed via the ipsilateral subclavian vein percutaneous approach. Of those remaining 18 patients in which CV cutdown approach was not technically feasible, 17 (94%) underwent CICVAD placement via ipsilateral EJV cutdown approach. Combined success of the CV and EJV cutdown approaches, excluding those 7 patients with a contraindication to central venous access in the ipsilateral neck region, was greater than 99%. Conclusions Venous cutdown approaches for CICVAD placement are viable alternatives to subclavian vein percutaneous approach in cancer patients. EJV cutdown approach appears to be a highly successful and safe alternative route when CV cutdown approach is not technically feasible and may be considered a potentially useful primary route for CICVAD placement in cancer patients.