Pleural mesothelioma patients face a barrage of treatments and the inevitable side effects when managing their cancer. The aggressive, rare cancer of the lining of the lungs requires an equally aggressive treatment regimen to improve the survival for patients. However, mesothelioma patients should be aware of one complication of mesothelioma: blood clots.
The National Institutes of Health wants to educate people on the symptoms and dangers of deep vein thrombosis and offers steps to help patients reduce their chances of having a blood clot form in their veins. The NIH points out in its January issue of News in Health that clots can arise anywhere in your body, but the organization offers pointers in its feature article, “How to Spot and Prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis.”
“Deep vein thrombosis has classic symptoms—for example swelling, pain, warmth, and redness on the leg,” says Dr. Andrei Kindzelski, an NIH blood disease expert. “But about 30–40% of cases go unnoticed, since they don’t have typical symptoms.”
Mesothelioma patients are especially susceptible to blood clots, or deep vein thrombosis, due to the high doses of chemotherapy, limited mobility from fatigue and breathing difficulties, and the invasive surgeries that require significant time confined to a bed. Research has shown that blood clotting agents released by tumors, side effects of chemotherapy, and pre-existing health conditions such as obesity and anemia may all contribute to the development of blood clots.
Fortunately, with education, many physicians and patients are more aware of the risk, and some standard procedures have been put in place for mesothelioma patients. In a recent blog in “Nurse’s Corner,” Lisa Hyde-Barrett explains that after surgery mesothelioma patients are placed in pneumatic boots, that compress the legs to avoid blood clots; they undergo non-invasive ultrasounds of their extremities to look for any blood clots post-operatively; and they are encouraged to walk. Bed-ridden patients may be placed on an anti-coagulant subcutaneous injection to help prevent any clots. Researchers are also studying the possibility of reducing the risk of developing blood clots by adding blood thinner, such as heparin to their treatment.
Deep vein thrombosis occurs when a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, typically the legs. This is a serious condition because blood clots can break loose, travel through the bloodstream and lodge in the lungs, blocking blood flow, ultimately leading to death. According to the NIH article, “therapies aim to stop the blood clot from getting bigger, prevent the clot from breaking off and moving to your lungs, or reduce your chance of having another blood clot.” NIH scientists continue to research new medicines and better treatment options.
In a 2011 study, Duke University Medical Center researchers found that a serious side effect of chemotherapy may be the increased risk of blood clots. The Duke researchers found that developing a blood clot is more common among cancer patients than doctors realize. They found that as many as one in five cancer patients risk developing a blood clot within a year of receiving cancer treatments, with up to two percent of cases blood clots proving deadly.
Mesothelioma patients must be especially vigilant and can take some steps to reduce the chance of a blood clot forming in their veins. Get out of bed and move around as soon as possible after having surgery or being ill – the more active you are, the better your chance of avoiding a blood clot. Also, stay hydrated and watch out for leg swelling or leg pain. Take any medicines your doctor prescribes to prevent clots. Note that while a massage may be tempting, they are dangerous for cancer patients as they could dislodge a clot. Check with your doctor before receiving any form of massage therapy.
Discuss any concerns you may have about your mesothelioma care and your risk of blood clots with your doctor. To find out more read NIH’s January issue of News in Health.