Venous thromboembolism is a common complication in patients with cancer. The management of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism can be a considerable challenge in patients with cancer. The cancer itself and associated treatments contribute to an ongoing thrombogenic stimulus, while cancer patients are thought to be at increased risk for anticoagulant-induced bleeding. Initial treatment of acute thromboembolism is with intravenous unfractionated heparin or subcutaneous low molecular weight heparin. Treatment at home with low molecular weight heparin is an attractive option in patients with malignant disease. Long-term treatment of acute venous thromboembolism has traditionally been with oral anticoagulants. However, the inconvenience and narrow therapeutic window of oral anticoagulants make such therapy unattractive and problematic in cancer patients. Low molecular weight heparins are being evaluated as an alternative for long-term therapy because their anticoagulant effects are more predictable and laboratory monitoring is unnecessary. Although many clinical issues remain unresolved in the treatment of cancer patients with venous thromboembolism, the future holds much promise as new antithrombotic agents, including factor Xa antagonists and oral thrombin inhibitors, are being tested in clinical trials.

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