, Volume 11, Issue 3-4, pp 237-248

Hemostatic alterations in cancer patients

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Summary

Nearly all patients with cancer manifest laboratory evidence of hypercoagulability and some develop clinical thromboembolic disease (TED). Routine laboratory studies of blood coagulation have been performed in several large, prospective trials of the use of anticoagulant drugs in cancer treatment. The results of these studies, as well as data from several smaller studies of more sensitive tests of hypercoagulability [e.g. fibrinopeptide A (FPA); thrombin-antithrombin (TAT) complexes; prothrombin fragment F1+2)], indicate that the levels of some clotting proteins parallel disease activity. However, no studies of sound methodologic design have yet been performed to indicate that any of these tests of blood coagulation can serve as adequate predictors of TED in patients with cancer.

In addition to the important role played by tumor-related procoagulants, several other mechanisms may be involved in the pathogenesis of thromboembolic events in patients with cancer, including stasis and endothelial damage. Considerable variability in the relative importance of these mechanisms in the pathogenesis of TED may exist among patients with different types of cancer.

The risk for TED associated with surgical procedures in cancer patients is substantial and prophylactic antithrombotic therapy should be considered for most of these patients. Chemotherapy and hormonal therapy of cancer probably increases the likelihood of TED, particularly in those subjects with indwelling venous catheters. This risk has been particularly well-studied in patients with breast cancer treated with tamoxifen plus cytotoxic drugs. The pathogenic mechanisms may be complex but vascular injury is likely as a proximate cause of venous access catheter thrombosis and can be prevented with low dose coumadin therapy. The utility of low dose coumadin anticoagulation in reducing the risk for TED during breast cancer treatment is unknown but is currently being tested in a large, multiinstitutional study. Since chronic coumadin anticoagulation of cancer patients, and single pulse dose heparin prior to intravenous chemotherapy, both prevent thrombin generation, these agents may be of use in reducing the risk of chemotherapy-associated thrombosis. Prophylactic anticoagulation should be considered for high risk patients.