If you are going through chemotherapy treatments to fight cancer, it may not be the first thing on your mind that you could be at a significantly increased risk for deep vein thrombosis (DVT), commonly known as blood clots.
Unfortunately, not only certain types of cancers, but also a number of chemotherapy treatments are known to increase the risk of developing blood clots.
According to statements of medical experts, individuals with certain types of cancers are more susceptible to developing blood clots. These cancers include kidney, liver, lung, stomach, pancreatic, ovarian and brain, as well as leukemia and lymphoma type cancers.
The knowledge of the exact reasons why cancer can trigger a DVT/PE is still somewhat sketchy. The thinking behind it is that damaged tissue caused by the cancer and associated inflammatory processes may somehow trigger the body’s blood clotting responses.
Chemotherapy treatments can be a blessing and a curse. They are believed to have a potentially damaging effect on blood vessels and they may also lower the body’s ability to produce the proteins that are needed to protect us against blood clots.
It should also be mentioned that the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis in these cases do not necessarily follow a pattern of developing suddenly or gradually. This makes them harder to recognize by the patient and diagnosed properly, even by medical experts.
The safest approach is to immediately report any signs of calf and/or leg pain, swelling or an area that feels warmer to the touch to one’s primary healthcare provider or to the oncology specialist in charge of the chemotherapy treatment rather than waiting to see if the symptoms go away.
Autopsy studies have revealed that nearly 80% of DVT and PE cases remain undiagnosed even when they are the direct cause of death.
This shows that blood clots must be taken seriously because of their potentially lethal effect of turning into the most dangerous complication of a pulmonary embolism (PE), which happens in 1 out of 3 patients.
According to the Surgeon General’s Call To Action On DVT and PE a pulmonary embolism happens when a piece of a blood clot breaks loose and travels up to the heart and lungs where it can cause a partial or complete blockage of a pulmonary artery resulting in death as the worst case scenario.
Simple Things You Can Do To Help Prevent Blood Clots:
- Go on brief walks frequently.
- Make sure you are properly hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
- If you are unable to walk very easily, try doing some leg exercises such as bending and straightening your toes and feet and doing figure eights with them.
- Talk to your physician and/or specialist. Ask about wearing graduated compression stockings to help minimize the risks of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism.
- If you have a spouse, family member or friend who survived cancer, have them talk to their doctor and oncologist about wearing compression stockings or socks to prevent DVT, PE or any recurrence thereof.
Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis (Source: Cleveland Clinic)
It should also be noted that not everyone having a DVT experiences symptoms.
A blood clot in the deeper veins most commonly occurs in just one leg or one arm. If symptoms do occur they can be any of the following:
- Swelling of the leg or arm (sometimes it occurs suddenly)
- Pain or tenderness in the leg that may only be present when standing or walking
- Redness or discoloration of the skin
- Feeling of increased warmth in the area of the leg or arm that is swollen or painful
- Enlargement of the superficial veins in the affected leg or arm
Symptoms of Pulmonary Embolism (Source: Cleveland Clinic)
- Sharp chest pain, often aggravated by coughing or movement
- (Sudden) shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid pulse or breathing
- Lightheadedness or passing out
- Pain in the back
- Cough with or without bloody sputum
It is very important to notify your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms of a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). Do not wait to find out if the symptoms will “go away.” Get treatment without delay to prevent serious complications.
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