Most Cancer Patients Unaware of Common, Deadly Complication: Study
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
Posted by: Emily Mullin
A majority of people with cancer are not aware of an increased risk for deep-vein thrombosis and its complications, according to a March survey released by the Coalition to Prevent DVT.
The survey also found that few patients had discussed their risk for DVT and its potentially fatal complication, pulmonary embolism, with their healthcare provider.
DVT is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein and most commonly occurs in the legs. A DVT can occur without presenting any symptoms, but in many cases the affected part of the body will be painful, swollen, red and warm.
Up to 2 million Americans are affected by DVT annually, and complications from DVT and pulmonary embolism are responsible for up to 300,000 deaths in the U.S. each year – more than AIDS and breast cancer combined. Up to 20 percent of all cases of DVT and pulmonary embolism occur in cancer patients, and these conditions are the second-leading cause of death among cancer patients.
"Almost anyone fighting cancer is at heightened risk for developing a DVT," says the coalition’s steering committee member Craig Kessler, M.D., professor of medicine and pathology at Georgetown University Medical Center. "Tissue damage and inflammatory responses in cancer patients may lead to activation of the blood clotting system; the tumors themselves may release chemicals which trigger clotting; and surgery or chemotherapy may injure blood vessel walls, causing the blood to clot. So it's important that patients, their caregivers and medical professionals at all points in the cancer treatment cycle are aware and take appropriate steps to prevent a DVT."
Based on the elevated risk in this patient population, the Coalition to Prevent DVT and Penn Schoen Berland conducted an online survey of 1,000 cancer patients including both current cancer patients and those in remission to assess the overall awareness and perceptions of the dangers of DVT.
Survey results showed cancer patients are informed about DVT in general but are not aware of the increased risk associated with cancer.
Nearly 70 percent of survey respondents had heard of DVT prior to taking the survey, but of those with cancer currently undergoing treatment, only 16 percent think they are at high risk of developing a DVT blood clot.
Less than one in three respondents said they have had a discussion about DVT blood clots with a healthcare professional, while nearly three in four respondents, or 73 percent, were not informed by their healthcare provider of their increased risk of developing DVT with cancer.
Out of all respondents, including people currently being treated for cancer and those in remission, 86 percent said they had neither heard of nor read anything about DVT blood clots in connection with cancer and its treatment.
An overwhelming majority of patients indicated that they sought their doctors' guidance, but few had actually discussed DVT or its risk factors with them. For example, 82 percent said physicians had the greatest influence on their healthcare decisions.
Only 20 percent of respondents who had heard of DVT tried to find information about signs and symptoms on their own since their cancer diagnosis, and 25 percent of respondents were concerned about blood clots or DVT as a side effect of cancer or cancer treatment.
The coalition's website, www.preventdvt.org, offers educational information, downloadable tools and resources to assist patients and their caregivers about DVT.