Research conducted by Dr. Maeve Crowley on lymphoma (blood cancers) focused on minimising patients’ exposure to radiotherapy and (funded by HERO donations) she also researched clotting in cancer patients. Her findings tangibly improve the quality of care available to cancer patients all of whom are at high risk of blood clots.
By studying clotting in myeloma (a type of blood cancer) Dr. Crowley’s data is helping to answer the questions – why do patients with cancer become so prone to clotting? How can we best combat this additional problem related to cancer which causes patients more suffering and can even occur as a side effect of their treatment?
Blood clots are one of the leading causes of death in patients with cancer, coming second only to disease progression. Prevention of clots has been shown in many published studies to be cost-effective as treatment of clots is very expensive (in terms of drug costs and hospital admission duration) and upsetting for patients. It may delay or change the treatment. Prevention of blood clots has been highlighted by both the Surgeon General in the United States and the House of Commons committee on health in the United Kingdom as a priority, underlining the importance of the issue on a global scale.
Many cancers have been linked to a high risk of blood clots. Myeloma is associated with blood clots and the risk has increased with the advent of some new treatments. It is a cancer that develops from cells in the bone marrow called plasma cells, a type of white cell.
Approximately 240 people per year are diagnosed with myeloma in Ireland. Marked improvements in treatments have been made over the past decade with the percentage of people alive five years after diagnosis increasing from 26% to 46%. However, this has come at a cost in the form of treatment related side-effects such as an increased risk of blood clots.
Using a test called thromboelastography (TEG) Dr Crowley obtained information about myeloma patient’s risk of blood clotting. This could be used in clinical practice to pick out high-risk patients so that they could be targeted for treatment with clot-preventing drugs. It could also be used to determine the duration of treatment. If a patient knows that they will only need to take a drug for a specified time, they are more likely to take it. If this method was shown to be successful, it could be used in other high risk groups of patients.