Lung cancer: swelling of the superior vena cava could be a sign of the disease


People with advanced cancer may notice swelling of the face or neck. According to Cancer Research UK, this is called superior vena cava obstruction (SVCO). As Macmillan UK explains, the superior vena cava (SVC) is a large vein in the middle of the chest. It carries blood from the upper body to the heart. If the cancer presses on the CVS, it can block blood flow along that vein. The charity said, “SVCO is usually caused by lung cancer near this vein and less commonly by other types of cancer.”

As the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation (RCLCF) explains, many people will think that a swollen face is a sign of an allergic reaction.

“However, swelling of the face can be caused by an upper vena cava obstruction, which is usually caused by lung cancer,” the health organization explains.

The superior vena cava is a large vein in the chest – it carries blood from the upper half of the body to the heart.

According to RCLCF, an obstruction of the superior vena cava occurs when something stops the blood flow.

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Other symptoms of SVCO can include:

A feeling of fullness in the face when leaning

Shortness of breath


Swelling of the hands and veins on a person’s chest

Scared of heights

Changes in a person’s sight.

How to respond to symptoms

According to the NHS, you should see a GP if you have symptoms of lung cancer, such as shortness of breath or a persistent cough.

As the health agency explains, the general practitioner will ask you questions about your general health and symptoms.

“They can examine you and ask you to breathe into a device called a spirometer, which measures the amount of air you inhale and exhale,” he says.

Who is at risk?

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing lung cancer.

However, having any of these risk factors does not mean that you will definitely get cancer.

Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer in the UK – around seven in 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking, reports Cancer Research UK.

If you’re having trouble quitting, call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044, open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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