JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Superior vena cava syndrome in small-cell lung cancer.

BACKGROUND: The aim of this study was to analyze the features of the superior vena cava syndrome (SVCS) as initial characteristics in small-cell lung cancer: incidence, dissemination of disease, diagnostic procedures, efficacy and toxic effects of chemotherapy, and median survival in patients with SVCS.

METHODS: In a prospective series of 724 patients with biopsy-proved small-cell lung cancer seen during a 6-year period, we reviewed data from patients who also had SVCS.

RESULTS: The incidence of SVCS was 87 of 724 at the time of diagnosis. Initial emergency radiation therapy was not used in these patients. Diagnostic procedures in these patients were not associated with mortality. Rapid initiation of intensive chemotherapy, often with heparin therapy, resulted in complete or partial responses in 81% and no response in 12%; data were not evaluable in 7%. Two of these 87 patients died of aplasia within 4 weeks of chemotherapy. Median survival was not significantly different in the patients with SVCS (median, 42 weeks) and without SVCS (median, 40 weeks). A significant increase in initial brain metastases at the time of diagnosis was observed in patients with SVCS (22% vs 11%).

CONCLUSIONS: Intensive chemotherapy is the first line of therapy in small-cell lung cancer. Histologic diagnostic procedures must be performed in patients with SVCS to adapt the treatment to the underlying cause. Initial emergency radiotherapy, before diagnosis or chemotherapy, does not seem to be useful in these patients. Computed tomography of the brain should be performed routinely in patients with SVCS, and prophylactic brain irradiation could be helpful in such patients. Apparently SVCS is not a poor prognostic factor in treated small-cell lung cancer.

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