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Cephalic Vein
Cardiovascular System

Cephalic Vein

Vena cephalica

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Quick Facts

Origin: Lateral aspect of dorsal venous network of the hand.

Course: Superiorly along anterolateral forearm and arm.

Tributaries: Accessory cephalic, median cubital, and branches from deep veins.

Drainage: Hand, forearm, and arm.

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The superficial veins on the lateral aspect of the dorsum of the hand unite to form the cephalic vein. This occurs at the anatomical snuffbox (Standring, 2016).


The cephalic vein courses superiorly on the anterolateral aspect of the forearm. Distally it lies adjacent to the superficial branch of the radial nerve; however, proximally it runs alongside the lateral cutaneous nerve of the forearm (Standring, 2016, Tubbs et al., 2016).

In the arm, the cephalic vein runs proximally along the lateral aspect to reach the deltopectoral groove. Finally, the cephalic vein pierces the clavipectoral fascia with the thoracoacromial vein. It typically drains into the axillary vein; however, it may also drain into the basilic vein or the internal jugular vein (Standring, 2016).


Within the forearm, the cephalic vein communicates with median antebrachial and basilic veins via the median cubital vein (Doyle and Botte, 2003). If the median cubital vein is enlarged, then the majority of the blood is transferred from the cephalic vein to the basilic vein and the upper portion of the cephalic vein is reduced (Standring, 2016).

The cephalic vein receives tributaries from the deep veins at the elbow, including the radial and ulnar veins. It also receives the accessory cephalic vein in 45% of individuals (Tubbs et al., 2016)

Structures Drained

The cephalic vein contributes to the venous drainage of the hand, forearm, and arm.

List of Clinical Correlates

- Cannulation

- Venipuncture

- Central venous lines


Doyle, J. R. and Botte, M. J. (2003) Surgical Anatomy of the Hand and Upper Extremity. LWW medical book collection: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Standring, S. (2016) Gray's Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice. Gray's Anatomy Series 41 edn.: Elsevier Limited.

Tubbs, R. S., Shoja, M. M. and Loukas, M. (2016) Bergman's Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Human Anatomic Variation. Wiley.

Learn more about this topic from other Elsevier products

Cephalic Vein

ScienceDirect image

The cephalic vein is a superficial vein which courses along the anterolateral aspect of the arm and continues into the deltopectoral groove to empty into the subclavian vein (see Figure 5.4).

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