Objectives: To assess the frequency of thrombotic and infectious complications of long-term use of vascular catheters in cancer patients and to determine whether the two types of complication are related.
Design: Case series.
Setting: A 500-bed tertiary cancer center.
Patients: Seventy-two cancer patients.
Interventions: During a 16-month period, postmortem examinations of catheterized veins and contralateral uncatheterized veins were done on all patients with indwelling central venous catheters who met study criteria.
Main outcome measures: Catheter-related septicemia determined by clinical and microbiological data as well as postmortem pathology; venous pathological changes such as mural hemorrhage, thrombosis, calcification, ulceration, and inflammation.
Results: Premortem clinical and microbiological data were obtained retrospectively on all patients. Pathological changes were noted in 35 catheterized veins (49%) compared with five contralateral control veins (9.2%) (P < .001). Mural thrombi were noted in 27 catheterized veins (38%) compared with only one contralateral control vein (1.4%) (P < .001). Other pathological changes consisted of four central venous catheter-related mural thrombi (5.6%) in the right atrium and four instances (5.6%) of nonbacterial thrombotic endocarditis, three involving the tricuspid and one the mitral valves. Seven patients had catheter-related septicemia. Of the 31 patients with mural thrombosis of the catheterized vein or right atrium, seven developed catheter-related septicemia, whereas none of the 41 patients with normal catheterized veins and atria developed catheter-related septicemia (P < .01).
Conclusions: Thrombotic complications are common in catheterized veins and are often associated with catheter sepsis.