Cancer-associated unsuspected pulmonary embolism
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Clinically unsuspected pulmonary embolism (UPE) is frequently diagnosed in cancer patients undergoing routine computed tomography scans for staging purposes or treatment response evaluation. The reported incidence of UPE ranges from 1% to 5% which probably represents an underestimation. A significant proportion of cancer patients with UPE actually do have pulmonary embolism (PE) related symptoms. However, these can erroneously be attributed to the cancer itself or to cancer therapy leading to a delayed or missed diagnosis. The incidence of UPE is likely to increase further with the improvements of imaging techniques. Radiologic features of UPE appear similar to symptomatic PE with nearly half of the UPE located in central pulmonary arteries and one third involving both lungs. UPE in cancer patients is not a benign condition with rates of recurrent venous thromboembolic events, bleeding and a mortality rate comparable to cancer patients with symptomatic PE. Current guidelines suggest that UPE should receive similar initial and long-term anticoagulant treatment as for symptomatic PE. However, direct evidence regarding the treatment of UPE is scarce and treatment indications are largely derived from studies performed in cancer patients with symptomatic venous thromboembolism. Selected subgroups of cancer patients with UPE such as those with sub-segmental UPE may be treated conservatively by withholding anticoagulation and avoiding the associated bleeding risk, although this requires further evaluation.
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