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Respir Care. 2011 May;56(5):653-66. doi: 10.4187/respcare.00947. Epub 2011 Jan 27.

Superior vena cava syndrome in thoracic malignancies.

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Department of Internal Medicine V, University Hospital of Saarland, Homburg/Saar, Germany.


The superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) comprises various symptoms due to occlusion of the SVC, which can be easily obstructed by pathological conditions (eg, lung cancer, due to the low internal venous pressure within rigid structures of the thorax [trachea, right bronchus, aorta]). The resulting increased venous pressure in the upper body may cause edema of the head, neck, and upper extremities, often associated with cyanosis, plethora, and distended subcutaneous vessels. Despite the often striking clinical presentation, SVCS itself is usually not a life-threatening condition. Currently, randomized controlled trials on many clinically important aspects of SVCS are lacking. This review gives an interdisciplinary overview of the pathophysiology, etiology, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of malignant SVCS.

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