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  • Updated 11.28.2023
  • Released 09.07.1994
  • Expires For CME 11.28.2026

Cerebrovascular complications of cancer



Cerebrovascular disease (sinus thrombosis, cerebral infarction, or hemorrhage) is a common complication of cancer and cancer therapy. The management of these vascular disorders in this complex patient population can be challenging. In addition, there are vascular disorders unique to cancer patients, including radiation-induced carotid artery atherosclerosis and chemotherapy-induced vasculopathy. In this article, the authors review the clinical milieu in which these disorders develop and summarize the pathogenesis, characteristics, and methods of diagnosis of cancer-associated stroke.

Key points

• Cancer is a hypercoagulable state leading to an increased risk of venous and arterial thromboembolism.

• Cancer therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy have direct effects on the CNS vasculature.

• Patients with cancer are also at risk for intracranial hemorrhage from a variety of factors including thrombocytopenia, coagulopathy, and hemorrhagic brain metastases.

Historical note and terminology

In the mid-1800s, Armand Trousseau first drew attention to the clinical association between thrombophlebitis and cancer. Subsequently, clinicians observed that thrombophlebitis is only one manifestation of cancer-associated coagulopathy, which represents a disruption of the delicate balance that normally exists between hemostatic and fibrinolytic pathways. This coagulopathy is poorly understood and does not constitute a unique entity (64; 63). Disseminated intravascular coagulation is generally defined as excess thrombin generation within the vasculature that overwhelms normal regulatory hemostatic mechanisms. This results in increased consumption of platelets, coagulation factors, and sometimes inhibitors of coagulation. Defibrination syndrome and consumption coagulopathy are alternate terms for disseminated intravascular coagulation.

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