The optimal long-term treatment of acute venous thromboembolism (VTE) in patients with malignancy remains undefined. In particular, based on current evidence, it is uncertain whether secondary prophylaxis using standard intensity oral anticoagulant therapy is associated with higher risks of bleeding and recurrent thrombosis in patients with cancer than in those without cancer. This study compared the outcome of anticoagulation courses in 95 patients with malignancy with those of 733 patients without malignancy. All patients were participants in a large, nation-wide population study and were prospectively followed from the initiation of their oral anticoagulant therapy.
Based on 744 patient-years of treatment and follow-up, the rates of major (5.4% vs 0.9%), minor (16.2% vs 3.6%) and total (21.6% vs 4.5%) bleeding were statistically significantly higher in cancer patients compared with patients without cancer. Bleeding was also a more frequent cause of early anticoagulation withdrawal in patients with malignancy (4.2% vs. 0.7%; p <0.01; RR 6.2 (95%CI 1.95-19.4). There was a trend towards a higher rate of thrombotic complications in cancer patients (6.8% vs. 2.5%; p = 0.058; RR 2.5 [CI 0.96-6.5]) but this did not achieve statistical significance. In the group of patients with cancer, the bleeding rate was high across the different INR categories and was independent of the temporally associated International Normalized Ratio (INR). In contrast, the bleeding rate was increased only with INR values greater than 4.5 in the group of patients without cancer. The rate of thrombotic events was significantly higher in both cohorts when the INR was less than 2.0.
In conclusion, patients with malignancy treated with oral anticoagulants have a higher rate of bleeding and possibly an increased risk of recurrent thrombosis compared with patients without malignancy. Safer and more effective anticoagulant therapy is needed for this challenging group of patients.