Venous Thromboembolism (Blood Clots) and Cancer

If you are currently being treated for cancer, it is important to know that you are at increased risk for developing a blood clot. The good news, though, is blood clots may be preventable and treated if discovered early.

A doctor talking with a senior couple

While everyone is at risk for developing a blood clot (also called venous thromboembolism or VTE), having cancer and some of its treatments increase the risk for a blood clot. Learn other interesting facts about blood clots below.

Why Are People with Cancer at Risk for Developing a Blood Clot?

  • Some cancers pose a greater risk for blood clots, including cancers involving the pancreas, stomach, brain, lungs, uterus, ovaries, and kidneys. Certain blood cancers, such as lymphoma and myeloma, also increase risk.
  • Treatments for these cancers involving hospitalization, surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, and catheters (small tubes placed in veins to administer treatments) may also increase your risk for blood clots.

Several other factors may also increase the risk for a blood clot in a person being treated for cancer, such as

  • A previous blood clot
  • Family history of blood clots or inherited clotting disorder
  • Hospitalization for illness or major surgery, particularly those involving the pelvis, abdomen, hip, or knee
  • Broken bone or severe muscle injury
  • Severe physical trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident
  • Serious medical conditions, such as heart and lung diseases or diabetes
  • Sitting too long, such as traveling for more than 4 hours, especially with legs crossed
  • Other causes of immobility, such as extended bedrest
  • Being overweight or having obesity
  • Smoking

Take Steps to Protect Yourself from Blood Clots During Your Cancer Treatment

  • Know the signs and symptoms of blood clots. Discuss your risks with your cancer doctor.
    • A blood clot occurring in the legs or arms is called deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Signs and symptoms of a DVT include
      • Swelling of the affected limb
      • Pain or tenderness not caused by injury
      • Skin that is warm to the touch, red, or discolored
If you have these signs or symptoms, alert your cancer doctor as soon as possible.
  • A blood clot in the legs or arms can break off and travel to the lungs. This is called a pulmonary embolism (PE), and can be life threatening. Signs and symptoms of a PE include
    • Difficulty breathing
    • Chest pain that worsens with a deep breath or cough
    • Coughing up blood
    • Faster than normal or irregular heartbeat
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of these signs or symptoms.
  • Talk with your cancer doctor and other healthcare providers about factors that might increase your risk for a blood clot. Let them know if you or anyone else in your family has ever had a blood clot.

CDC’s Work in Blood Clots and Cancer

Public Health Monitoring

In 2018, CDC funded the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) to determine the number of people with cancer newly diagnosed with VTE in two U.S. populations:  1) Oklahoma County, Oklahoma and 2) three Duke-affiliated hospitals. AUCD provided funding to researchers at Duke University and the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center to evaluate, analyze, and share information on cancer-associated VTE in these populations. The findings of this project will provide valuable information about the burden of cancer-associated VTE in these populations, as well as how VTE is being identified and treated. Data from studies such as these are needed to improve health care outcomes for people with cancer.

Health Promotion and Education

Since 2014, CDC has funded the National Blood Clot Allianceexternal icon (NBCA) to increase general awareness of blood clots by working to develop educational materials on the public health issue of VTE. In 2019, new content has focused on the risk for blood clots among people with cancer for a digital public health education campaign called Stop the Clot, Spread the Word®external icon. This campaign was one of many CDC resources recognized in 2017 as an important asset in a collection of VTE educational resources published by The Joint Commission. pdf icon[PDF – 3.24 MB]external icon The Commission accredits and certifies nearly 21,000 healthcare organizations in the United States.

The campaign’s web portal provides people with lifesaving information about blood clots, including signs, symptoms, and prevention, as well as the factors that increase the risk for blood clots.

Please feel free to share the campaign’s educational resources with friends and family. The campaign’s digital content is provided in ways that make it easy for you to share with friends and family and across your social media networks. You can access these resources either from the campaign web portal or through the links provided below.

Campaign Video

This video shares important information about blood clot signs and symptoms, as well as the risk factors for blood clots for people who are being treated for cancer.

Campaign Infographic

This infographic shares important information about blood clot signs and symptoms, as well as the risk factors for blood clots in people who are being treated for cancer.

Campaign Checklists

Download these checklists to learn more about your risk for blood clots and how to guide a discussion with your cancer doctor.