New Zealand scientists have unlocked the mystery of why so many cancer patients die of blood clots while undergoing chemotherapy in a study that might save lives.
Chemotherapy stimulated the release of tiny bubble from the surface of cancer cells, causing the potentially fatal clots, according to a study by University of Otago researchers out Wednesday.
Most deaths from cancer were caused by uncontrolled growth of the tumour in vital organs, but the second most common way that cancer killed was by triggering blood clotting resulting in thrombosis, such as pulmonary embolisms.
This caused blockage of major blood vessels, preventing oxygen and nutrients from reaching vital organs.
Though often life-saving and life-prolonging, chemotherapy was associated with a six to seven fold increase in the risk of thrombosis in cancer patients.
The link between cancer and thrombosis was noted over 100 years ago, but the reasons for the association had been elusive, Associate Professor Alex McLellan said in a statement.
His team discovered cancer cells treated with chemotherapy released lipid-rich bubbles from their membranes that activate coagulation (clotting) processes.
"We now have insight into how these bubbles from dying cancer cells may cause thrombosis during chemotherapy," McLellan said.
The research had showed that certain solid cancers were more active in promoting blood coagulation, as compared to lymphomas.
"A general pattern is that cancers such as pancreatic, lung and brain cancers carry the largest risk of thrombotic events," he said.
The study opened the possibility of developing inhibitors to the major coagulation pathway identified in cancer cells.