UVM Medical Center research could boost quality of life for cancer patients

Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 6:59 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - New research from the University of Vermont Medical Center could provide a big boost in the quality of life for some cancer patients with deadly blood clots.

Doctors say cancer can make blood cells “sticky” and more likely to clot, and chemotherapy treatments can also promote increased clotting.

Some 5%-25% of patients develop a potentially deadly condition called venous thrombosis which causes blood clots in the lungs and other vital organs.

Pancreatic cancer, lymphoma, brain cancer, stomach cancers and any cancer that has metastasized are more likely to lead to clots.

The standard of care has been for patients to give themselves injections with a blood thinner twice a day, sometimes for six months or even the rest of their lives.

But research from the UVM Medical Center shows they now have an equally safe less-painful alternative.

Five years ago, 78-year-old Marie LaCourse, of Newark, got her cancer diagnosis.

“It was brain cancer,” LaCourse said.

Surgery removed most of the tumor but a blood clot landed her back in the hospital. When she got out, her new daily routine included blood thinner injections twice a day.

“I was taking a shot in the stomach morning and night,” she said.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Were those uncomfortable for you?

Marie LaCourse: Well, I mean my stomach turned black and blue.

But then she took part in a study at the UVM Medical Center looking at whether an anticoagulant pill would be just as effective at preventing deadly blood clots.

Cat Viglienzoni: I imagine, though, having a pill is much easier than doing shots in your belly?

Marie LaCourse: Oh, yes. If I had to do it again, I would take the pill, definitely... The shots were not comfortable and the pills were easy to take.

But she says the outcome-- keeping her safe-- was the most important thing. As it was for UVM Medical Center Hematologist Dr. Chris Holmes, who helped write a recent study that just came out.

“It is a game-changer because if you have cancer, you want options and you want quality of life,” Holmes said.

Holmes says they found that most patients didn’t need the injections if they had the pill version.

“We all wanted this. We wanted them to be able to take the pill but we needed the data to prove that yes, you can take the pill and it will be equally effective as the shot,” Holmes said.

Cat Viglienzoni: Does anyone actually choose the injections after getting the option of an injection versus a pill?

Dr. Chris Holmes: No (laughs).

Back in the Northeast Kingdom, LaCourse says she’s glad her participation in the trial meant that other cancer patients after her would have a less painful option to stay safe from blood clots.

Doctors couldn’t get part of the brain tumor and she can’t do everything she wants to now. But she says overall, she’s feeling well.

Cat Viglienzoni: Other than the dizzy spells, are you otherwise feeling OK?

Marie LaCourse: Oh, yeah. If it weren’t for the dizzy spells, I’d be doing a jig!

As for the next steps in the research, Holmes and her team have now turned their attention toward preventing blood clots in cancer patients in the first place. Every patient who starts chemotherapy with them as an outpatient gets screened for their clotting risk. They’ve found that’s effective at reducing clots in the first place. Now, they’re working on moving that process out to more rural settings outside the main medical center.