Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes Risk Cancer Treatment

Individuals with cancer have a higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that develops in the deep veins of the legs or arms. If this clot dislodges and travels through the blood stream it can cause an embolism, a potentially life-threatening condition in which the blood clot blocks an artery or a vein, blocking blood flow.

Cancer and Blood Clots

DVT is more common in cancer patients than in those without cancer because cancer patients have a higher count of blood platelets, proteins that help the blood clot. Although the cancer itself doesn’t trigger an increased amount of blood clots, cancer patients are more likely to form clots due to the high levels of platelets they typically have.

This is particularly true for cancer patients being treated with chemotherapy. When chemotherapy kills cancer cells, these cells also release substances that can increase clotting factors in the blood.

DVT Symptoms and Diagnosis

Patients who have cancer or are receiving chemotherapy, particularly those who are on bed rest, should watch for symptoms of DVT. While some cases of DVT exist without any symptoms whatsoever, in cases that patients suffer from symptoms, common indicators of DVT include:

  • area of DVT may be warm to the touch
  • discoloration of the skin on the DVT site
  • pain in the affected area (generally calf, leg or arm muscle)
  • prominent veins
  • swelling of the DVT site
  • tenderness of the DVT site.

Although anyone experiencing the above DVT symptoms should see his doctor, chemotherapy patients especially should alert their physicians as soon as they suspect that they have developed DVT.

A doctor can properly diagnose DVT using one of several methods, including:

  • administering miscellaneous tests, including blood tests or an EKG
  • taking a chest X-ray to view the chest, lungs and ribs
  • taking a lung scan to look for a pulmonary embolism
  • using a Doppler ultrasound to examine the veins
  • using a venogram to check blood flow.

How to Lower Risk Factors

All individuals who are at risk for developing DVT should take preventative measures. This is particularly important for chemotherapy patients and cancer patients. Tactics for lowering DVT risk include:

  • Avoid prolonged bed rest. If bed rest is required or if the patient is immobile, keep the blood flowing properly by exercising leg and arm muscles.
  • If possible, increase exercise according to a physician’s recommendation.
  • Stop smoking immediately.
  • Switch to a healthy diet that minimizes trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.

DVT Treatments

Doctors prescribe medications, such as blood thinners, to patients who develop DVT. However, blood thinners do come with their own risks, such as excessive bleeding due to a reduced level of blood clotting factors. As a result, patients on such medications should be careful to follow their physicians’ directions, take all medication as directed and follow up with lab results as recommended.

In addition, patients on blood thinners should be particularly cautious and try to avoid injury of any type, particularly any minor injury that could cause bruising (falls, bumps, etc.) or bleeding (harsh tooth brushing, cuts during shaving, etc.).

Resources

Chemocare.com (2005). Blood Clots and Chemotherapy. Retrieved June 22, 2007 from http://www.chemocare.com/managing/blood_clots_and_chemotherapy.asp.

Cancer Research UK (2002). Cancer and the Risk of Blood Clots. Retrieved June 22, 2007 from http://www.cancerhelp.org.uk/help/default.asp?page=6348.