Patient Care

Should Patients with an Unprovoked VTE Be Screened for Malignancy or a Hypercoagulable State?

Table 3. VTE recurrence rates21

(click for larger image)Table 3. VTE recurrence rates21

The American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) recommends treating a provoked VTE for three months.19 According to the same guidelines, an unprovoked VTE should be treated for a minimum of three months, and lifelong anticoagulation should be considered.19

Overall, the rate of recurrence after a first VTE is considerable after completion of anticoagulation, especially for an unprovoked thrombotic event. Studies show a 7%-15% recurrence rate during the two years following the index VTE (see Table 3).17,20,21 Currently, no data suggest that a hereditary thrombophilia substantially changes this baseline high recurrent risk. ACCP recommendations state that the presence of hereditary thrombophilia should not be used as a major factor to guide duration of anticoagulation.19

Back to the Case

Our patient presented with an unprovoked VTE. She should be started on anticoagulation therapy with low molecular weight heparin and transitioned to oral anticoagulation.

Her highest risk for VTE recurrence is the unprovoked VTE itself, regardless of an underlying thrombophilia. Since the presence of an inherited thrombophilia will not change duration or intensity of management, our patient should not be tested.

There are no prospective trials showing improved outcomes from aggressive workup for occult malignancy. Given this information, an extensive workup for occult malignancy should not be undertaken; however, this patient has an idiopathic VTE and should undergo a complete history, physical examination, and basic lab work, with attention to common areas of malignancy. Any abnormalities uncovered on this initial workup should be investigated more aggressively. Screening with mammography and Pap smear should be arranged in outpatient follow-up and communicated to the primary care physician, because she is not up to date with these age-appropriate screening tests.

Based on new evidence, a low-dose chest CT would be a consideration if she had a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years.22 Her microcytic anemia uncovered on routine lab work should be investigated further for a possible underlying gastrointestinal malignancy.

Bottom Line

An initial diagnosis of unprovoked VTE remains the strongest risk factor for recurrent thromboembolic events. The presence of an inherited thrombophilia does not significantly alter management. Aggressive workup for occult malignancy has not prospectively improved outcomes, but age-appropriate malignancy screening should be recommended.

Drs. Czernik and Anderson are hospitalists and instructors of medicine at the University of Colorado Denver (UCD). Dr. Wolfe is a hospitalist and assistant professor of medicine at UCD. Dr. Cumbler is a hospitalist and associate professor of medicine at UCD.

Additional Reading

  • Baglin T, Gray E, Greaves M, et al. Clinical guidelines for testing for heritable thrombophilia. Br J Haematol. 2010;149(2):209-220.
  • Blom JW, Doggen CJ, Osanto S, Rosendaal FR. Malignancies, prothrombotic mutations, and the risk of venous thrombosis. JAMA. 2005;293(6):715-722.
  • Dalen JE. Should patients with venous thromboembolism be screened for thrombophilia? Am J Med. 2008;121(6):458-463.


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