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Blood vessel blockage

The large blood vessel in the neck is called the superior vena cava. This vessel might become blocked. This is called superior vena cava obstruction (SVCO). 

It can happen in different cancers including:

  • lung cancer
  • breast cancer
  • oesophageal cancer
  • non Hodgkin lymphoma

Causes

Blockage of the blood vessel (SVCO) can be caused by:

  • a blood clot within the blood vessel
  • the tumour itself pressing on the blood vessel
  • cancer in the nearby lymph nodes, making them larger and pressing on the blood vessel

The pressure on the blood vessel stops blood going back to the heart from the head and arms. This causes swelling around your windpipe (trachea) making breathing difficult.

Symptoms

Symptoms of blood vessel blockage in the neck (SVCO) include:

  • swelling of face, voice box, neck and arms
  • chest pain
  • a cough
  • dizziness
  • eyesight changes
  • headache

Treatment

SVCO needs urgent treatment. You might need:

  • oxygen
  • steroids to reduce the swelling in your neck
  • water tablets (diuretics) which make you pass more urine to help reduce swelling
  • thin tube called a stent into the vein to keep it open
  • radiotherapy or chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumour and stop it pressing on the vena cava
  • drugs to thin the blood (anti coagulants), such as heparin and warfarin, if SVCO is caused by a blood clot
Last reviewed: 
19 Nov 2019
  • Symptom management in advanced cancer (4th edition) 

    Twycross R, Wilcock A and Toller S (2009)

    Radcliffe Medical Press Ltd

  • Palliative procedures in lung cancer

    E Masuda and others (2013) 

    Seminars in interventional radiology Jun;30(2):199-205

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