Purpose: The use of anticoagulants for the prevention of venous thromboembolism (VTE) in hospitalized medical and surgical oncology patients is discussed.
Summary: Hospitalized patients are often at risk for developing VTE, and risk is increased in patients who have cancer. Moreover, the incidence of VTE appears to be rising in hospitalized cancer patients, who have a 2.2-fold increased risk of mortality with a VTE compared with similar patients without VTE. The literature indicates that these patients are often inadequately anticoagulated, despite strong recommendations for prophylaxis. Although there are few studies that specifically address VTE prophylaxis in cancer patients, there are several large trials that have examined data in cancer subgroups. The trials have directly compared low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) with placebo, unfractionated heparin with LMWH, factor Xa inhibitor (fondaparinux) with placebo, and fondaparinux with LMWH. Three important guidelines provide current recommendations for VTE prophylaxis; the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), and the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) recommend unfractionated heparin, LMWH, or fondaparinux for VTE prophylaxis when there are no contraindications. Pharmacists can play an essential role in ensuring that VTE prophylaxis is appropriate for individual patients. Interventions to improve compliance with guidelines are particularly important now due to financial incentives from quality-focused organizations whose mandate is to decrease preventable mortality events in hospitals.
Conclusion: Hospitalized patients with cancer often do not receive appropriate thromboprophylaxis. Guidelines from ASCO, ACCP, and NCCN recommend unfractionated heparin, an LMWH, or fondaparinux for VTE prophylaxis when there are no contraindications to such therapy.