What is the treatment of Superior Vena Cava Syndrome?

By  ,  National Institute of Health
Jan 06, 2013

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Treatment will depend on the following:

  • The type of cancer.
  • The cause of the blockage.
  • How severe the symptoms are.
  • The prognosis (chance of recovery).
  • The patient's wishes.

Treatment of SVCS may include the following:

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment unless symptoms appear or change. A patient who has good blood flow through other veins and mild symptoms may not need treatment.

The following may be used to relieve symptoms and keep the patient comfortable:

  • Keeping the upper body raised higher than the lower body.
  • Corticosteroids (drugs that reduce swelling).
  • Diuretics (drugs that make excess fluid pass from the body in urine). Patients taking diuretics are closely monitored because these drugs can cause dehydration (loss of too much fluid from the body).

Radiation therapy

If the blockage of the superior vena cava is caused by a tumor that is not sensitive to chemotherapy, radiation therapy may be given. Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.



Chemotherapy is the usual treatment for tumors that respond to anticancer drugs, including small cell lung cancer and lymphoma. This treatment would not be changed for patients who have SVCS. Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy).




SVCS may occur when a thrombus (blood clot) forms in a partially blocked vein. Thrombolysis is a method used to break up and remove blood clots. This may done using a drug put directly into the clot, through a catheter, or by a thrombectomy (the use of a device inserted into the vein).


Stent placement


A stent may be used to open up the blocked vein. A stent is a tube-like device that is inserted into the blocked area of a vein to allow blood to pass through. This helps most patients. Patients may also receive an anticoagulant to keep more blood clots from forming.


Surgery to bypass (go around) the blocked part of the vein is sometimes used for cancer patients, but is used more often for patients without cancer.



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