An inferior vena cava (IVC) filter is a small, cone-shaped device designed to prevent blot clots from traveling from the largest vein in the body, the inferior vena cava, to the lungs or heart. It is typically used on patients who cannot take blood-thinning medication such as heparin or warfarin, such as patients who recently had surgery, including cancer patients.
Cancer patients may develop venous thromboembolism (VTE) as a result of the cancer itself or cancer treatment. Blood clots may develop with VTE. An IVC filter may be required as part of a patient’s treatment plan. An IVC filter also may be a treatment option for patients with recurring blood clots that do not respond to medication.
IVC filters are either permanent or optionally retrievable. An optionally retrievable IVC filter may be more appropriate for you depending on your individual risk factors, how long you are at risk for blood clots and if you can take blood thinners.
If you need an IVC filter, the procedure would start with medication to help you relax and a local anesthetic to numb the area of insertion. Implanting the IVC filter is done by an interventional radiologist, interventional cardiologist or vascular surgeon.
Your doctor would insert a catheter through a small incision in your groin or neck. Using X-rays images to guide the procedure, your doctor advances the IVC filter through the catheter and into the inferior vena cava. Once the IVC filter is in place, your doctor removes the catheter and puts a small bandage on the insertion site.
While an IVC filter does not prevent blot clots from forming, it allows blood to flow around the clot. Natural anticoagulants in the blood would eventually break down the clot over time. After the procedure, you should expect to stay in the hospital for at least 12 hours.
If you have an optionally retrievable IVC filter, your doctor would determine when it’s appropriate to remove the device. The procedure to remove the filter follows the steps outlined above. A snare is used to retrieve the filter.