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Certain cancer treatment or some types of cancer puts cancer patients at risk for some blood disorders. These blood disorders or blood-related complications due to cancer treatment include blood clots, bleeding disorders, and anemia. These complications can make cancer treatment challenging. For patients with a pre-existing blood disorder, cancer treatments like chemotherapy may worsen it. MSK's blood specialists work hard to prevent blood conditions from becoming fatal and increase the patient's comfort during cancer therapy.

What Are the Common Benign Blood Disorders Seen During Cancer Treatment?

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  • Blood Clots - Blood clotting or coagulation prevents excess blood loss during injury and is a normal physiological process. Platelets (a type of blood cells) and clotting factors (special proteins in the blood) help in clot formation. Sometimes, abnormal clotting of blood can result in a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), where a blood clot forms in a deep vein (the majority of times in the leg), which can also get detached from the vein and travel to major organs like the lungs (pulmonary embolism) and stop blood flow. Cancer patients are more at risk of developing these dangerous blood clots, as the genetic changes that cause cancer also hyperactivate the clotting factors. Some chemotherapy also has similar effects on the clotting factors.
    During cancer treatment at MSK, patients who develop blood clots have access to various treatment options. Specialists at MSK's Anticoagulation Clinic are experienced in providing a combination of blood clot treatments, such as blood thinners or anticoagulants (Heparin), inferior vena cava filter (a special filter is inserted into the large vein that delivers blood to the heart from the legs), thrombolytics (tissue plasminogen activator), and thrombectomy (clot removal surgery). Hematologists at MSK are also developing a new oral anticoagulant drug, which may cause fewer blood-related complications in the future.
  • Anemia -Anemia or low red blood cells (RBC) is a prevalent cancer complication and its treatment. This is because some chemotherapeutic drugs block the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow. In contrast, others inhibit erythropoietin production (a hormone that assists in the production of red blood cells) by the kidneys. Radiation therapy using high-dose radiation also damages bone marrow, resulting in anemia. Surgical removal of tumors that contain large blood vessels can also result in anemia due to excessive blood loss.
    At MSK, hematologists regularly check the patient's RBC levels and adjust the cancer care accordingly. Also, cancer patients are advised to consume a diet rich in iron and folic acid even during recovery, while severe anemia is managed with blood transfusions.
  • Thrombocytopenia - Thrombocytopenia, a type of bleeding disorder, results in extremely low levels of platelets in the blood, increasing the risk of bleeding. This condition is also a common side effect of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy drugs that damage the bone marrow (the place where platelets are produced) can cause this. These drugs also escalate platelet destruction in the blood, spleen, or liver.
    MSK specialists are experts in the diagnosis and management of thrombocytopenia. They also care for other cancer-related bleeding disorders. In case you do not have sufficient clotting factors, the doctor might infuse clotting factors, blood plasma, or platelets.

Can Blood-Related Complications Be Prevented?

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The first step to prevent blood-related complications during cancer treatment is a complete medical and family history. As people with a pre-existing or family history of blood disorders are more at risk, the doctor will check for any blood problems symptoms. They will also perform blood tests before starting cancer treatment to plan the cancer care accordingly. Even during the treatment, all your blood parameters will be checked regularly to diagnose and treat any abnormality at the earliest and prevent such blood conditions from becoming life-threatening. This is exactly what hematologists at MSK do to prevent these blood-related complications.