The Relationship Between Varicose Veins and Cancer

Written By Center for Vein Restoration
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Cancer and varicose veins raise the risk of developing a blood clot. If you already have varicose veins and are diagnosed with cancer, you need to be aware of that risk.

If you have varicose veins, you’re likely familiar with the uncomfortable symptoms of pain, swelling, cramping, heaviness, and itching, as well as the bulging and sometimes unsightly gnarls of blue and purple veins on the legs and feet.

But not everyone realizes that varicose veins hint at deeper issues with your vascular system. People with varicose veins are at greater risk of experiencing serious medical events such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Unfortunately, DVTs are also an unwelcome risk of cancer treatments — and can be dangerous if the clot breaks away and lodges in the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism (PE).

There is no direct link between varicose veins and cancer. However, if you are undergoing cancer treatments, you should know how those therapies might impact your vein health, particularly if you have varicose veins.

Varicose Veins, DVT, and Cancer

Varicose veins develop when damaged valves in the veins no longer close tight enough to push all of the blood in the vein back to the heart, thereby letting blood accumulate within the vein. Eventually, the vein wall stretches from the excess of trapped blood, and an enlarged varicose vein appears.

Many factors put you at higher risk of varicose veins and DVT. Chief among them are an inherited clotting disorder, obesity, and a job requiring long hours sitting or standing. A long plane or car ride increases DVT risk, too, because blood doesn’t move as efficiently when you’re sedentary. But cancer and its treatments harm your veins and increase the potential for developing blood clots for two reasons:

  • Cancer cells interfere with the clotting mechanism in your blood. When you cut yourself, a mix of platelets and proteins stops the bleeding by clotting the blood. However, certain cancers such as lung, liver, stomach, pancreatic, leukemia, and lymphoma change the balance between those agents so that you may produce too many clots.

  • Chemotherapy drugs, particularly tamoxifen for breast cancer, can damage the veins or decrease blood-clotting proteins in the blood. In addition, many cancer patients may be inactive for long periods following surgery or treatments. The longer you stay in bed or are immobile, the more likely your blood flow will slow down, and clots will form, leading to a DVT.

Given the established link between varicose veins and DVT, does that mean varicose vein patients will experience a blood clot if they have cancer? It’s possible. A 2013 study of 1,270 cancer patients found an increased risk of DVT in those who presented with varicose veins. Researchers concluded the presence of varicose veins doubled the risk of DVT in cancer patients.

Bottom line: cancer and cancer treatments can be harmful to veins already compromised by varicosity. So if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, talk to your vein specialist about taking proven measures to control your DVT risk. This is true for any cancer patient, but it might be especially helpful for varicose vein patients. Therapies such as blood thinners can maintain proper blood flow so clots don’t form. And if a clot does develop, clot-busting medications reduce the possibility the clot will grow and travel. Staying active, elevating your legs when possible, and wearing tightly woven compression stockings further reduce your chances of developing a blood clot, as well.

Know Your Risk

Taking care of your veins means knowing your risk for varicose veins and DVT. The specialists at Center for Vein Restoration will review your medical history and discuss both surgical and non-surgical treatments for your varicose veins. Contact us today for a consultation.

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