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Blood thinners may help treat ovarian cancer

February 16, 2012|By Shari Roan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • High levels of blood platelets have been linked to worse outcomes in women with ovarian cancer.
High levels of blood platelets have been linked to worse outcomes in women… (Hannah Johnston / Getty…)

As many as one-third of women with ovarian cancer have high levels of platelets in their blood, which is linked to worse outcomes, researchers reported Wednesday.

Platelets are components of cells that clump together to stop bleeding. Having an excessively high level of platelets is called thrombocytosis. Doctors have long known that thrombocytosis is associated with cancer.

In the new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers at M.D.
Anderson Cancer Center in Houston analyzed data from 619 women with ovarian cancer. They found high levels of platelets were more common in women with an advanced case and who had shorter survival. The study showed that tumors generate a protein called interleukin-6, which fosters the increase in platelets and contributes to tumor growth. Medications that blocked interleukin-6 reduced the platelet count.

The study suggests that blood-thinning medications, such as heparin or aspirin, may be a valuable addition to some types of cancer treatment.

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