Updates on Treatment/Prevention of VTE in Cancer Patients

Pam Harrison

August 08, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Updated clinical practice guidelines for the treatment and prevention of venous thromboembolism (VTE) for patients with cancer, including those with cancer and COVID-19, have been released by the International Initiative on Thrombosis and Cancer (ITAC), an academic working group of VTE experts.

"Because patients with cancer have a baseline increased risk of VTE compared with patients without cancer, the combination of both COVID-19 and cancer — and its effect on VTE risk and treatment ― is of concern," say the authors, led by Dominique Farge, MD, PhD, Nord Universite de Paris, Paris, France.

The updated 2022 ITAC guidelines cover new evidence on the treatment and prophylaxis of cancer-associated thrombosis, including for patients with cancer and COVID-19, they add.

The new guidelines were published online July 18 in The Lancet Oncology.

"Cancer-associated VTE remains an important clinical problem, associated with increased morbidity and mortality," Farge and colleagues observe,

"The ITAC guidelines' companion free web-based mobile application will assist the practicing clinician with decision making at various levels to provide optimal care of patients with cancer to treat and prevent VTE," they emphasize. More information is available at itaccme.com.

Cancer Patients With COVID

The new section of the guidelines note that the treatment and prevention of VTE for cancer patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 remain the same as for patients without COVID.

Whether or not cancer patients with COVID-19 are hospitalized, have been discharged, or are ambulatory, they should be assessed for the risk of VTE, as should any other patient. For cancer patients with COVID-19 who are hospitalized, pharmacologic prophylaxis should be given at the same dose and anticoagulant type as for hospitalized cancer patients who do not have COVID-19.

Following discharge, VTE prophylaxis is not advised for cancer patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, and routine primary pharmacologic prophylaxis of VTE for ambulatory patients with COVID-19 is also not recommended, the authors note.

Initial Treatment of Established VTE

Initial treatment of established VTE for up to 10 days of anticoagulation should include low-molecular weight heparin (LMWH) when creatinine clearance is at least 30 mL/min.

"A regimen of LMWH, taken once per day, is recommended unless a twice-per-day regimen is required because of patients' characteristics," the authors note. These characteristics include a high risk of bleeding, moderate renal failure, and the need for technical intervention, including surgery.

If a twice-a-day regimen is required, only enoxaparin at a dose of 1 mg/kg twice daily can be used, the authors caution.

For patients with a low risk of gastrointestinal (GI) or genitourinary bleeding, rivaroxaban (Xarelto) or apixaban (Eliquis) can be given in the first 10 days, as well as edoxaban (Lixiana), The latter should be started after at least 5 days of parenteral anticoagulation, provided creatinine clearance is at least 30 mL/min.

"Unfractionated heparin as well as fondaparinux (GlaxoSmithKline) can be also used for the initial treatment of established VTE when LMWH or direct oral anticoagulants are contraindicated," Farge and colleagues continue.

Thrombolysis can be considered on a case-by-case basis, although physicians must pay attention to specific contraindications, especially bleeding risk.

"In the initial treatment of VTE, inferior vena cava filters might be considered when anticoagulant treatment is contraindicated or, in the case of pulmonary embolism, when recurrence occurs under optimal anticoagulation," the authors note.

Maintenance VTE Treatment

For maintenance therapy, which the authors define as early maintenance for up to 6 months and long-term maintenance beyond 6 months, they point out that LMWHs are preferred over vitamin K antagonists for the treatment of VTE when the creatinine clearance is again at least 30 mL/min.

Any of the direct oral anticoagulants (DOAs) — edoxaban, rivaroxaban, or apixaban — is also recommended for the same patients, provided there is no risk of inducing a strong drug-drug interaction or GI absorption is impaired.

However, the DOAs should be used with caution for patients with GI malignancies, especially upper GI cancers, because data show there is an increased risk of GI bleeding with both edoxaban and rivaroxaban.

"LMWH or direct oral anticoagulants should be used for a minimum of 6 months to treat established VTE in patients with cancer," the authors note.

"After 6 months, termination or continuation of anticoagulation (LMWH, direct oral anticoagulants, or vitamin K antagonists) should be based on individual evaluation of the benefit-risk ratio," they add.

Treatment of VTE Recurrence

The guideline authors explain that three options can be considered in the event of VTE recurrence. These include an increase in the LMWH dose by 20% to 25%, or a switch to a DOA, or, if patients are taking a DOA, a switch to an LMWH. If the patient is taking a vitamin K antagonist, it can be switched to either an LMWH or a DOA.

For treatment of catheter-related thrombosis, anticoagulant treatment is recommended for a minimum of 3 months and as long as the central venous catheter is in place. In this setting, the LMWHs are recommended.

The central venous catheter can be kept in place if it is functional, well positioned, and is not infected, provided there is good resolution of symptoms under close surveillance while anticoagulants are being administered.

In surgically treated patients, the LMWH, given once a day, to patients with a serum creatinine concentration of ≥30 mL/min can be used to prevent VTE. Alternatively, VTE can be prevented by the use low-dose unfractionated heparin, given three times a day.

"Pharmacological prophylaxis should be started 2–12 h preoperatively and continued for at least 7–10 days," Farge and colleagues advise. In this setting, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of fondaparinux or a DOA as an alternative to an LMWH for the prophylaxis of postoperative VTE. "Use of the highest prophylactic dose of LMWH to prevent postoperative VTE in patients with cancer is recommended," the authors advise.

Furthermore, extended prophylaxis of at least 4 weeks with LMWH is advised to prevent postoperative VTE after major abdominal or pelvic surgery. Mechanical methods are not recommended except when pharmacologic methods are contraindicated. Inferior vena cava filters are also not recommended for routine prophylaxis.

Patients With Reduced Mobility

For medically treated hospitalized patients with cancer whose mobility is reduced, the authors recommend prophylaxis with either an LMWH or fondaparinux, provided their creatinine clearance is at least 30 mL/min. These patients can also be treated with unfractionated heparin, they add.

In contrast, DOAs are not recommended ― at least not routinely ― in this setting, the authors caution. Primary pharmacologic prophylaxis of VTE with either LMWH or DOAs — either rivaroxaban or apixaban — is indicated in ambulatory patients with locally advanced or metastatic pancreatic cancer who are receiving systemic anticancer therapy, provided they are at low risk of bleeding.

However, primary pharmacologic prophylaxis with LMWH is not recommended outside of a clinical trial for patients with locally advanced or metastatic lung cancer who are undergoing systemic anticancer therapy, even for patients who are at low risk of bleeding.

For ambulatory patients who are receiving systemic anticancer therapy and who are at intermediate risk of VTE, primary prophylaxis with rivaroxaban or apixaban is recommended for those with myeloma who are receiving immunomodulatory therapy plus steroids or other systemic therapies.

In this setting, oral anticoagulants should consist of a vitamin K antagonist, given at low or therapeutic doses, or apixaban, given at prophylactic doses. Alternatively, LMWH, given at prophylactic doses, or low-dose aspirin, given at a dose of 100 mg/day, can be used.

Catheter-Related Thrombosis

Use of anticoagulation for routine prophylaxis of catheter-related thrombosis is not recommended. Catheters should be inserted on the right side in the jugular vein, and the distal extremity of the central catheter should be located at the junction of the superior vena cava and the right atrium. "In patients requiring central venous catheters, we suggest the use of implanted ports over peripheral inserted central catheter lines," the authors note.

The authors describe a number of unique situations regarding the treatment of VTE. These situations include patients with a brain tumor, for whom treatment of established VTE should favor either LMWH or a DOA. The authors also recommend the use of LMWH or unfractionated heparin, started postoperatively, for the prevention of VTE for patients undergoing neurosurgery.

In contrast, pharmacologic prophylaxis of VTE in medically treated patients with a brain tumor who are not undergoing neurosurgery is not recommended. "In the presence of severe renal failure...we suggest using unfractionated heparin followed by early vitamin K antagonists (possibly from day 1) or LMWH adjusted to anti-Xa concentration of the treatment of established VTE," Farge and colleagues write.

Anticoagulant treatment is also recommended for a minimum of 3 months for children with symptomatic catheter-related thrombosis and as long as the central venous catheter is in place. For children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia who are undergoing induction chemotherapy, LMWH is also recommended as thromboprophylaxis.

For children who require a central venous catheter, the authors suggest that physicians use implanted ports over peripherally inserted central lines.

Farge is the founding co-chair of the International Initiative on Thrombosis and Cancer.

Lancet Oncol. Published online July 18, 2022. Full text

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