Blood clots are one side effect mesothelioma patients must deal with. Patients with cancers that occur in the lungs and abdomen, such as mesothelioma, are at greater risk of developing blood clots. Although cancers that have spread from their original site, or metastasized, can put patients at risk too. Often physicians look at age, race and ethnicity to determine risk factors, but treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are all contributing factors. The good news is that blood clots can be treated.
A blood clot can also be called a thromboembolism. There several different types that may develop in cancer patients. One type is a venous thromboembolism that develops in a vein. A deep vein thrombus, or a DVT, usually occurs in the leg, thigh or pelvis; whereas, a pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that has traveled to the lung from another area, and can be life-threatening. Thirty eight percent of patients who have had surgery will be diagnosed with a blood clot, but they are treatable.
Blood clot symptoms include pain, swelling and redness in the affected area. Usually these are seen in the calf, leg or thigh. The symptoms of pulmonary embolism are shortness of breath, chest pain, and rapid breathing and heartbeat. Sometimes the person will also cough up blood. If you experience any of these conditions, you need to notify emergency personnel immediately.
Patients who have pulmonary embolisms are usually treated with Heparin for 5-10 days and then are converted to an oral medication. Depending on your treatment, doctors may order a non-invasive ultrasound of your legs, pelvis, arms and neck. It is easy and painless- a warm gel is applied to the affected area, and the ultrasound handle is placed on the area being scanned. Attached to the device is a monitor that will show your vessels and will reveal if there is a clot in one of your extremities or pelvis. If your physician is suspicious that you may have a pulmonary embolus, you will have a CT scan that specifically looks for a clot in your lungs.
Anticoagulants are the drugs that help break up these clots and stop other clots from forming. Compression stockings can also be used (they are a type of support hose). If you are receiving inpatient care, you may receive therapy to get you walking to keep the blood circulating as much as possible. Often times people have pneumatic boots on that help promote circulation while in bed. This is a small machine that has plastic leggings that squeeze your legs intermittently. It is painless, and most patients don’t mind them.
This may all sound overwhelming, but I want to cover information about issues you may have to manage as a mesothelioma patient. Always keep your medical team informed of any pain or symptoms that suddenly appear.
If you have any questions about any aspect of your mesothelioma care, please email me at [email protected].