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May Is Stroke Awareness Month – Take Some Time to Consider the Relationship Between Stroke and Cancer

May 24, 2018

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A recent study suggests that the risk of stroke may increase following a cancer diagnosis. More specifically, some cancer patients were found to have a heightened susceptibility to arterial blockages, or arterial thromboembolism. A stroke is a sudden disruption in the blood supply to the brain, which is often caused by a blocked artery (ischemic stroke).

A significant finding of this study was that cancer can increase the risk of stroke independently of other established risk factors, such as high blood pressure and diabetes. This effect appears to be more pronounced in patients with relatively aggressive types of cancer, such as lung, colorectal and pancreatic cancers. Additionally, the risk was greatest in the first three months after cancer diagnosis, when the intensity of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other treatments is typically highest.

Why does cancer increase the risk of arterial blockages?

While the precise reasons behind the link between stroke and cancer are not yet fully understood, some experts believe multiple factors may be at play. For instance:

  • Cancer treatment may involve invasive surgery, which can potentially dislodge a blood clot.
  • Some cancer therapies can affect the blood vessels and the body’s blood clotting function, possibly causing the blood to thicken.
  • Some tumors release proteins and enzymes that can foster an environment in which blood clots are more likely to form. 
  • Because the effectiveness of cancer treatment is steadily advancing and, as a result, outcomes are continually improving, it is increasingly important for patients to focus on their quality of life. This includes the prevention of secondary complications related to cancer, such as arterial thromboembolism.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, we encourage our patients to be vigilant for stroke symptoms and to seek emergency medical attention should they occur. If you have questions, you can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.