The Relationship Between Varicose Veins and Cancer
While there is no direct link between varicose veins and cancer, there are some important considerations to be aware of, especially for individuals with vein disease who are undergoing cancer treatments. Cancer and its treatments can have implications for vascular health, including an increased risk of developing blood clots.
Understanding Varicose Veins: Causes, Symptoms, and Misconceptions
Varicose veins are a common condition characterized by swollen, twisted leg veins that are not only unsightly but also a source of symptoms such as pain, aching, throbbing, cramping, itching, and feelings of leg heaviness. Caused by weak or damaged valves in the leg veins that return blood to the heart against gravity, varicose veins do not cause cancer, nor are they a symptom of cancer.
Misconceptions linking vein disease and cancer may be because cancer contributes to a consequence of untreated varicose vein disease: blood clots.
What causes varicose veins?
Understanding what causes varicose veins can empower individuals to take preventive measures and manage the risk of developing varicose veins. Varicose veins are caused by chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), also known as venous disease or vein disease. This long-term condition occurs when leg veins have difficulty sending blood back to the heart. This is often due to damaged or weakened valves in the veins, which cause blood to pool in the legs, leading to symptoms such as swelling, pain, and skin changes.
Hormonal Changes: Female hormones tend to relax the walls of veins, making the valves more prone to leaking. Hormonal changes due to pregnancy, premenstrual syndrome, or menopause can impact the development of varicose veins.
Genetics: A family history of varicose veins increases the risk of developing the condition, suggesting a genetic component to its development.
Age: Aging causes wear and tear on the valves in the veins, leading to decreased elasticity and increased risk of varicose veins.
Pregnancy: The increased blood volume and hormonal changes during pregnancy can strain the veins, leading to the development of varicose veins.
Obesity: Being overweight puts added pressure on the veins, increasing the risk of varicose veins.
Occupation: Prolonged standing or sitting for long periods of time can contribute to the development of varicose veins.
Lifestyle Factors: Smoking, lack of exercise, and certain dietary habits can also play a role in developing varicose veins.
Varicose Veins and Cancer: Understanding the Relationship
While there is no evidence that varicose veins cause cancer, people with varicose veins who are diagnosed with cancer should be aware of the potential increased risk of venous thromboembolism (VTE), VTE occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein and includes deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and pulmonary embolism (PE).
DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in the lower leg, thigh, or pelvis. According to the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 600,000 VTE events occur in the United States annually. Because blood clots tend to develop in veins damaged by inflammation, surgery, and lack of movement that occurs during cancer treatment, individuals with cancer are at high risk of blood clots.
Per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
"Cancer patients, especially cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy, have a much higher risk of DVT than other people. Patients with brain, pancreatic, stomach, and lung cancers are at the highest risk."
Cancer and Increased Risk of Blood Clots
The danger of blood clots is particularly significant for individuals with cancer, as they are at a higher risk of developing these potentially life-threatening complications. Research suggests that up to 20 percent of people with cancer may develop a blood clot, and certain types of cancer, such as those involving the pancreas, stomach, brain, lungs, uterus, and kidneys, pose a greater risk for blood clots.
Why blood clot risk increases with a cancer diagnosis
Cancer itself is considered a "hypercoagulable" condition, meaning it increases the likelihood of blood clots. According to MD Anderson Cancer Center, this is because can create an imbalance known as the Virchow triad, which are factors that predispose an individual with cancer to blood clots. These factors include:
- A change in the composition of the blood that increases the tendency to clot (hypercoagulability)
- A change in blood flow in the vessels
- Blood vessel wall injury
Additionally, cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and hormone therapy, can further increase the risk of blood clots. Per the CDC, the risk of a dangerous blood clot is greatest in the first few months after a cancer diagnosis, the time when treatment generally occurs.
The presence of a blood clot can have serious consequences, such as pulmonary embolism (PE), which can be life-threatening. Therefore, individuals with cancer must be aware of the signs and symptoms of blood clots, such as pain or swelling in the affected area, and promptly report any concerning symptoms to their healthcare providers.
Varicose Veins, Deep Vein Thrombosis, 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 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.
Why Is Vascular Health Important for Cancer Patients
Vascular health refers to the well-being of the body's blood vessels, including arteries and veins. It is essential for individuals with cancer due to several factors. Firstly, cancer patients are at an increased risk of vascular disease, including coronary artery disease and peripheral arterial disease, primarily due to the adverse cardiovascular effects of oncology treatments.
"Patients with cancer and cancer survivors are at increased risk of vascular disease for several reasons. First, many new cancer therapies, including several targeted therapies, are associated with vascular and metabolic complications. Second, cancer itself serves as a risk factor for vascular disease, especially by increasing the risk for thromboembolic events."
The impact of cancer and its treatments on the vascular system can lead to complications such as venous thromboembolism (VTE) and arterial thromboembolic disease, further emphasizing the significance of vascular health in the context of cancer care.
Furthermore, the relationship between varicose veins and cancer is a concern, as cancer and its treatments can harm the veins and lead to blood clotting, potentially making vascular issues worse.
Should people with cancer get their varicose veins treated?
According to the Journal of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, the presence of varicose veins in cancer patients is associated with an increased risk of blood clots, as cancer and its treatments can harm the veins—and the presence of varicose veins may further elevate this risk.
As such, individuals with cancer and varicose veins should discuss the management of their vascular health with healthcare providers. This may involve assessing the need for varicose vein treatment and implementing measures to reduce the risk of blood clots, especially during cancer treatments, considering the potential benefits and risks of treatment for the individual.
Importantly, cancer patients with varicose veins need to engage in open communication with their healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate and safe treatment approach, considering the potential impact of cancer therapies on vascular health. The individualized management of varicose veins in cancer patients should prioritize minimizing the risk of complications and enhancing the patient's overall well-being.
Trust the Caring Vein Experts at Center for Vein Restoration
Cancer patients with varicose veins may benefit from seeking a specialized vein doctor, particularly one experienced in treating venous disorders in the context of complex medical conditions. Consulting a specialist with expertise in venous diseases can provide tailored care with a comprehensive understanding of the potential interactions between cancer and varicose vein treatments.
At Center for Center Restoration (CVR), the clinical leaders in vein care, our vein specialists are board-certified experts at the leading edge of vein treatment options offered in a caring, supportive, office-based environment. At CVR, we are dedicated to examining, treating, and rehabilitating venous diseases and are well-equipped to address the unique needs of cancer patients with varicose veins.
In conclusion, cancer patients with varicose veins need to be vigilant in the face of increased risk of blood clots and engage in open communication with their healthcare providers to determine the most appropriate and safe treatment approach. The individualized management of varicose veins in cancer patients should prioritize minimizing the risk of complications while reducing blood clot risk and enhancing the patient's overall well-being.
Call 240-965-3915 to speak to a Patient Services Representative or schedule your consultation online at a CVR near you today.