The superior vena cava is a large vein in the chest. It carries blood from the body into the heart. Superior vena cava obstruction (SVCO) occurs when something blocks this blood flow.
SVCO is usually caused by lung cancer near the vein. The cancer may be pressing on the vein or it may have spread to the lymph nodes nearby, causing them to swell. It can also be caused by a blood clot blocking the vein. This can happen if you’re having treatment through a central line.
Symptoms of SVCO can develop quite quickly. These may include:
- a feeling of fullness in your face when you bend over
- swelling in the face, neck, arms, hands and veins on your chest
- visual disturbances
These symptoms can be distressing but are usually controlled quickly. You may be given oxygen, painkillers, or steroids. Treatment for SVCO will vary from person to person, and may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or having a small tube (a stent) inserted into the vein to keep it open.