Symptom Management and Supportive Care
Thrombotic Complications of Central Venous Catheters in Cancer Patients
David J. Kuter
Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Correspondence: David J. Kuter, M.D., D.Phil., Hematology/Oncology Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, 100 Blossom Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02114, USA. Telephone: 617-726-3908; Fax: 617-724-3166; e-mail: kuter.david@MGH.harvard.edu
Central venous catheters (CVCs), such as the tunneled catheters and the totally implanted ports, play a major role in general medicine and oncology.
Aside from the complications (pneumothorax, hemorrhage) associated with their initial insertion, all of these CVCs are associated with the long-term risks of infection and thrombosis.
Despite routine flushing with heparin or saline, 41% of CVCs result in thrombosis of the blood vessel, and this markedly increases the risk of infection. Only one-third of these clots are symptomatic.
Within days of insertion, almost all CVCs are coated with a fibrin sheath, and within 30 days, most CVC-related thrombi arise. Aside from reducing the function of the catheter, these CVC-related thrombi can cause postphlebitic syndrome in 15%–30% of cases and pulmonary embolism in 11% (only half of which are symptomatic).
Risk factors for CVC thrombosis include the type of malignancy, type of chemotherapy, type of CVC, and locations of insertion site and catheter tip, but not inherited thrombophilic risk factors.
Efforts to reduce CVC thrombosis with systemic prophylactic anticoagulation with low-molecular-weight heparin have failed.
Low-dose warfarin prophylaxis remains controversial; all studies are flawed, with older studies, but not newer ones, showing benefit.
Currently, less than 10% of patients with CVCs receive any systemic prophylaxis. Although its general use cannot be recommended, low-dose warfarin may be a low-risk treatment in patients with good nutrition and adequate hepatic function.
Clearly, additional studies are required to substantiate the prophylactic use of low-dose warfarin.
Newer anticoagulant treatments, such as pentasaccharide and direct thrombin inhibitors, need to be explored to address this major medical problem.
The Oncologist, Vol. 9, No. 2, 207–216, April 2004
Ann's NOTE: Garlic is a natural blood thinner, and vitamin C might be helpful as well.
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