A heart attack is a difficult and traumatic experience for any individual to live through. It leaves your heart weakened, your body exhausted, and your emotional health severely shaken. Now, image that you were going through a heart attack while you were already battling another severe illness at the same time — cancer.
Unfortunately for some individuals who have cancer, the possibility of their experiencing a heart attack is not ruled out. It can and does happen. The sad part? There are no medical guidelines for what to do when a person with cancer experiences a heart attack. One typical course of action is to give a heart attack patient a dose of aspirin in order to thin his/her blood and help the heart overcome the trauma. Unfortunately, because cancer patients often have low platelet counts and they can experience abnormal clotting, the administration of aspirin right after a heart attack is often avoided. This can have grave consequences.
According to a new study, which has been published in the medical journal Cancer, researchers found that a startling nine out of 10 cancer patients with the condition known as “thrombocytopenia” (which involves having a low platelet count in the blood) who experienced a heart attack and were not given aspirin during the event ended up dying, whereas only one patient out of 17 in similar cancer sufferers died.
The conclusion? Giving cancer patients who have thrombocytopenia aspirin during a heart attack will actually give them a better rate of survival, as opposed to the past belief that the contraindication was too big a risk to allow for the administration of drug. Also, cancer patients who do not have thrombocytopenia also face a better chance of surviving a heart attack if they are given aspirin.
According to the study’s lead author, Jean-Bernard Durand, MD, “The notion that heart attacks in patients with low platelets should be treated with clot-dissolving aspirin defies logic, that is unless you suspect that the cancer is interfering with platelet function.”
He also added that, “We believe tumors may be releasing chemicals that allow the cancer to form new blood supplies which makes blood more susceptible to forming clots. There appears to be a platelet paradox suggesting that cancer may affect the mechanism of the way that blood clots, and from this analysis, we have found that the single most important predictor of survival in these patients is whether or not they received aspirin.”
Since there are no guidelines that tell doctors exactly how to treat heart attacks in patients who also have cancer (or cancer and thrombocytopenia), this new study should lead the way in helping them decide on more concrete routes of action. There needs to be less variations in treatments being administered from doctor to doctor, so as to ensure that cancer patients are given the same odds for surviving a heart attack as those individuals who do not suffer from the disease. We’ll keep you posted on any developments in this area of treatment.