It is unclear how frequently unprovoked venous thromboembolism (VTE) reflects the presence of an occult cancer.
The California Cancer Registry was used to identify diagnosed cases of 19 common malignancies during a 6-year period. Cases were linked to a hospital discharge database to identify incident VTE events in the year before the cancer diagnosis date. The standardized incidence ratio (SIR) of unprovoked VTE was determined by using the age-, race-, and sex-specific incidence rates in California.
Among 528 693 cancer cases, 596 (0.11%) were associated with a diagnosis of unprovoked VTE within 1 year of the cancer diagnosis, compared with 443.0 expected cases (SIR, 1.3; 95% confidence interval, 1.2-1.5; P<.001). Among cases with metastatic-stage cancer, the SIR was 2.3 (95% confidence interval, 2.0-2.6; P<.001), whereas for all other stages, the SIR was 1.07 (95% confidence interval, 0.97-1.18; P = .09). The incidence of preceding VTE was increased over that expected only during the 4-month period immediately preceding the cancer diagnosis date (P<.001). Only 7 cancer types were associated with a significantly elevated SIR: acute myelogenous leukemia; non-Hodgkin lymphoma; and renal cell, ovarian, pancreatic, stomach, and lung cancer (SIR range, 1.8-4.2).
In the year preceding the diagnosis of cancer, the number of cases with unprovoked VTE was modestly higher than expected, and almost all of the unexpected VTE cases were associated with a diagnosis of metastatic-stage cancer within 4 months. Given the timing and advanced stage of the unexpected cases, it is unlikely that earlier diagnosis of these cancers would have significantly improved long-term survival.