Lateral thoracic vein

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 14 Dec 2021

The lateral thoracic vein (TA: vena thoracica lateralis) is a tributary of the axillary vein. It provides venous drainage for the axilla, anterolateral chest wall, including serratus anterior and pectoralis muscles and breast, and the supraumbilical abdominal wall.

In some texts, the term "long thoracic vein" is used as a synonym for the lateral thoracic vein, however this is an erroneous usage. Long thoracic vein does not appear in Terminologia Anatomica, nor in the 1918 edition of Gray's Anatomy 7,8. It has likely arisen due to an inadvertent mix-up with the long thoracic nerve which supplies serratus anterior muscle, and which when abbreviated by some to LTV, shares the same initialism as the lateral thoracic vein 9.

  • variable drainage patterns, most commonly (~85%) the lateral thoracic vein drains directly into the axillary vein; in a minority of patients the lateral thoracic vein merges with other small veins first, most commonly this is the subscapular vein 4,5

The lateral thoracic vein has an important role as a collateral venous pathway when superior vena cava obstruction or inferior vena cava obstruction is present. In superior vena cava obstruction there is reversal of normal physiological flow of venous blood through the axillary vein, via lateral thoracic vein to the thoracoepigastric vein, which drains into the superficial epigastric vein.

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