By Dr. Samuel P. Martin
Thrombosis (blood clots) is the second-leading cause of death in patients with cancer. Breast cancer increases the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), usually in the legs. Aggressive preventive care— and an attitude that doesn’t accept defeat—will help you avoid this complication.
What puts you a increased risk?
- The cancer itself
- Being on hormonal therapy (most often Tamoxiphen), increases the risk of DVT, usually in the legs
- Having a medical history of DVT, stillbirths, or a family history of DVT
- Being aged 55 or older
- A body mass index greater than 25 kg/lb. (overweight)
- Elevated blood pressure
- Total cholesterol greater or equal to 250
- Smoking, or a family history of coronary heart disease (CHD)
- Surgery or any immobilization
- Having varicose veins, especially with leg swelling
If you have any of these situations and experience new or increased swelling or leg pain, contact your doctor. Chemotherapy by itself—and particularly combined with hormonal therapy—increases your risk, especially with age. Unfortunately, thrombophrophylaxis (a medicine used to avoid clots) has not demonstrated a consistent benefit, may be very expensive, and has its own risks.
- Exercise on a daily basis, whether on land or in a pool. The chances of a clot are decreased and the production of the body’s anti-clot substances are increased along with your cancer-fighting ability.
- Keep well- nourished and drink water! Proper nutrition and hydration are essential for keeping the blood from “thickening” (dehydration), as well as giving the body the nutrients necessary to produce anti-clot proteins (thrombolysis), and nourishing the immune system. If solids are difficult because of nausea, frequent liquid feedings with protein-rich drinks or water can be beneficial.
- One 325 mg aspirin a day decreases the tendency for blood to clot by making platelets (an element in the blood that helps initiate a clot) less adhesive. An added benefit is that aspirin protects against cancer, especially colon and bile duct cancer, but only with a 325 mg dose.
- Avoid constricting garments like girdles, spandex, etc., especially in jobs that entail prolonged sitting or with travel. Legs should not be crossed for long periods, feet should be flexed frequently, and take short walking breaks frequently.
- Graduated compression stockings (worn to the knee) will help the calf-pump function more effectively, especially in those with varicose veins or ankle swelling and those who are overweight. Compression should be considered when traveling, especially when confined and immobile.
- Avoid high heels (other than for short periods) to promote better venous flow.
- While one can never be completely confident that clots won’t form, a conscientious and aggressive plan of daily exercise will help avoid clots in over 90 percent of cases.
In the spirit of Pink October and recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness, keep active and carry the torch to conquer cancer—don’t just survive, THRIVE!