Low-molecular-weight heparins are superior to vitamin K antagonists for the long term treatment of venous thromboembolism in patients with cancer: a cochrane systematic review

J Exp Clin Cancer Res. 2008 Jul 18;27(1):21. doi: 10.1186/1756-9966-27-21.


Background: Cancer and its therapies increase the risk of venous thromboembolism. Compared to patients without cancer, patients with cancer anticoagulated for venous thromboembolism are more likely to develop recurrent thrombotic events and major bleeding. Addressing all important outcomes including harm is of great importance to make evidence based health care decisions. The objective of this study was to compare low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) and oral anticoagulants (vitamin K antagonist (VKA) and ximelagatran) for the long term treatment of venous thromboembolism in patients with cancer.

Methods: A systematic review of the medical literature. We followed the Cochrane Collaboration methodology for conducting systematic reviews. We assessed methodological quality for each outcome by grading the quality of evidence using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology.

Results: Eight randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were eligible and reported data for patients with cancer. The quality of evidence was low for death and moderate for recurrent venous thromboembolism. LMWH, compared to VKA provided no statistically significant survival benefit (Hazard ratio (HR) = 0.96; 95% CI 0.81 to 1.14) but a statistically significant reduction in venous thromboembolism (HR = 0.47; 95% (Confidence Interval (CI) = 0.32 to 0.71). There was no statistically significant difference between LMWH and VKA in bleeding outcomes (RR = 0.91; 95% CI = 0.64 to 1.31) or thrombocytopenia (RR = 1.02; 95% CI = 0.60 to 1.74).

Conclusion: For the long term treatment of venous thromboembolism in patients with cancer, LMWH compared to VKA reduces venous thromboembolism but not death.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use*
  • Heparin, Low-Molecular-Weight / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / complications*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Venous Thromboembolism / drug therapy*
  • Venous Thromboembolism / etiology
  • Vitamin K / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Anticoagulants
  • Heparin, Low-Molecular-Weight
  • Vitamin K