UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Misc

Title: Oncologic Emergencies-SVC Syndrome

Keywords: Oncologic, Emergency, SVC Syndrome (PubMed Search)

Posted: 3/3/2008 by Rob Rogers, MD (Updated: 12/7/2019)
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Clinical Presentation of SVC Syndrome

SVC syndrome (caused either by tumor or thrombosis of the SVC) classically presents with facial swelling, arm swelling, and dilated chest wall veins. The problem in the real world is that often times the manifestaions are a bit more subtle.

Some SVC syndrome pearls:

  • Consider the diagnosis in patients with a generalized complaint of facial swelling or "fullness," particularly if they have an indwelling catheter in place.
  • Consider in patients who complain there face is swollen or red (plethoric) in the morning, or who notice this when their arms are raised (Pemberton's sign)
  • The diagnosis is usually established by CT.
  • Patients with SVC syndrome and the complaint of hoarseness or headache should make you nervous, as these symptoms may indicate laryngeal and cerebral edema.
  • The importance of examining the neck and chest in ED patients cannot be overemphasized. Often the one clue that leads to the diagnosis is prominent and asymetric neck, upper chest, or shoulder veins.
  • Treatment: For tumor related SVC syndrome-head elevation, possibly steroids, radiation therapy (along with biopsy if no cancer diagnosis established); For thrombotic-related SVC syndrome-anticoagulation, Interventional Radiology consult for lytics/stent