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Use of Blood Thinners Could Save Cancer Patients’ Lives

Blood clots are a major cause of death among cancer patients, but currently, anticoagulants are only used on patients when they're hospitalized. A study led by Margaret Ragni, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, tracked what would happen if anticoagulants were used in outpatient cancer treatments.

"There is increasing evidence that using blood thinners has a beneficial effect on cancer. The mechanism isn't well known but it probably inhibits extra vessel growth and it inhibits tumor growth," said Ragni.

Dr. Ragni and her team used a Markov model, which provides preliminary analysis to determine if the research warrants an actual clinical trial. The model used data from published studies to evaluate the cost and effectiveness of using blood thinners in outpatient cancer care.

"There was an 8 percent relative risk reduction in mortality. We did this modeled over a two-year period. We found there was a gain of quality of life of 5 percent, and this was all within what's considered an acceptable dollar cost for people with cancer," said Ragni.

Plus, she said, very few ill effects were found. The drug used — low molecular weight Heperin — showed reduced bleeding risk compared with other standard blood thinners and did not appear to increase major or minor bleeding risk in patients.

Ragni said that the findings should warrant larger study of the use of blood thinners in cancer patients. The next step would be a phase III trial, which would compare using the low molecular-weight Heperin to not using anything. But that could take years. Ragni said that many patients are needed, it would be costly, and would likely need more preliminary data. Still, she said, the hope is that this work will, at some point, lead to clinical trials.