Blood thinners in people with multiple myeloma

Background

The risk of blood clots is high in people with blood cancer, especially in those who have multiple myeloma, cancer that begins in plasma cells, a type of white blood cell. Lenalidomide, pomalidomide, and thalidomide are common treatments for multiple myeloma, which when combined with other chemotherapy agents, have been shown to increase the risk of blood clots.

Study characteristics

We searched the scientific databases for clinical trials looking at the effects of different blood thinners on blood clots in people with multiple myeloma receiving immunomodulatory agents (lenalidomide, pomalidomide, and/or thalidomide). The studies looked at survival, blood clots in the limbs or in the lung, and/or bleeding. The evidence is current to 14 June 2021.

Key results

We included four studies enrolling a total of 1042 people with multiple myeloma. The included studies made the following comparisons: aspirin (oral medication used to prevent blood clots) to vitamin K antagonist (VKA) (oral blood thinner) (one study); aspirin to low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) (injectable blood thinner) (two studies); VKA to LMWH (one study); and aspirin to direct oral anticoagulants (oral blood thinner) (two studies). In people with multiple myeloma receiving thalidomide, the data do not provide a clear answer about the comparative effect of these drugs on all of the studied outcomes (death, blood clots, bleeding).

Certainty of the evidence

When comparing aspirin to VKA, aspirin to LMWH, or VKA to LMWH, the certainty of the evidence was very low for all studied outcomes (death, blood clots in the limbs or the lung, and bleeding). When comparing aspirin to direct oral anticoagulants, the certainty of the evidence was very low for all of the studied outcomes (death, blood clots in the limbs or the lung, and bleeding).

Editorial note: This is a living systematic review. Living systematic reviews offer a new approach to review updating in which the review is continually updated, incorporating relevant new evidence as it becomes available. Please refer to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews for the current status of this review.

Authors' conclusions: 

The certainty of the available evidence for the comparative effects of ASA, VKA, LMWH, and DOAC on all-cause mortality, DVT, PE, or bleeding was either low or very low. People with multiple myeloma considering antithrombotic agents should balance the possible benefits of reduced thromboembolic complications with the possible harms and burden of anticoagulants.

Editorial note: This is a living systematic review. Living systematic reviews offer a new approach to review updating in which the review is continually updated, incorporating relevant new evidence as it becomes available. Please refer to the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews for the current status of this review.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Multiple myeloma is a malignant plasma cell disorder characterised by clonal plasma cells that cause end-organ damage such as renal failure, lytic bone lesions, hypercalcaemia and/or anaemia. People with multiple myeloma are treated with immunomodulatory agents including lenalidomide, pomalidomide, and thalidomide. Multiple myeloma is associated with an increased risk of thromboembolism, which appears to be further increased in people receiving immunomodulatory agents.

Objectives: 

(1) To systematically review the evidence for the relative efficacy and safety of aspirin, oral anticoagulants, or parenteral anticoagulants in ambulatory patients with multiple myeloma receiving immunomodulatory agents who otherwise have no standard therapeutic or prophylactic indication for anticoagulation.

(2) To maintain this review as a living systematic review by continually running the searches and incorporating newly identified studies.

Search strategy: 

We conducted a comprehensive literature search that included (1) a major electronic search (14 June 2021) of the following databases: Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library, MEDLINE via Ovid, and Embase via Ovid; (2) hand-searching of conference proceedings; (3) checking of reference lists of included studies; and (4) a search for ongoing studies in trial registries. As part of the living systematic review approach, we are running continual searches, and we will incorporate new evidence rapidly after it is identified.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) assessing the benefits and harms of oral anticoagulants such as vitamin K antagonist (VKA) and direct oral anticoagulants (DOAC), anti-platelet agents such as aspirin (ASA), and parenteral anticoagulants such as low molecular weight heparin (LMWH)in ambulatory patients with multiple myeloma receiving immunomodulatory agents.

Data collection and analysis: 

Using a standardised form, we extracted data in duplicate on study design, participants, interventions, outcomes of interest, and risk of bias. Outcomes of interest included all-cause mortality, symptomatic deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism (PE), major bleeding, and minor bleeding. For each outcome we calculated the risk ratio (RR) with its 95% confidence interval (CI) and the risk difference (RD) with its 95% CI. We then assessed the certainty of evidence at the outcome level following the GRADE approach (GRADE Handbook).

Main results: 

We identified 1015 identified citations and included 11 articles reporting four RCTs that enrolled 1042 participants. The included studies made the following comparisons: ASA versus VKA (one study); ASA versus LMWH (two studies); VKA versus LMWH (one study); and ASA versus DOAC (two studies, one of which was an abstract).

ASA versus VKA

One RCT compared ASA to VKA at six months follow-up. The data did not confirm or exclude a beneficial or detrimental effect of ASA relative to VKA on all-cause mortality (RR 3.00, 95% CI 0.12 to 73.24; RD 2 more per 1000, 95% CI 1 fewer to 72 more; very low-certainty evidence); symptomatic DVT (RR 0.57, 95% CI 0.24 to 1.33; RD 27 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 48 fewer to 21 more; very low-certainty evidence); PE (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.25 to 3.95; RD 0 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 14 fewer to 54 more; very low-certainty evidence); major bleeding (RR 7.00, 95% CI 0.36 to 134.72; RD 6 more per 1000, 95% CI 1 fewer to 134 more; very low-certainty evidence); and minor bleeding (RR 6.00, 95% CI 0.73 to 49.43; RD 23 more per 1000, 95% CI 1 fewer to 220 more; very low-certainty evidence).

One RCT compared ASA to VKA at two years follow-up. The data did not confirm or exclude a beneficial or detrimental effect of ASA relative to VKA on all-cause mortality (RR 0.50, 95% CI 0.05 to 5.47; RD 5 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 9 fewer to 41 more; very low-certainty evidence); symptomatic DVT (RR 0.71, 95% CI 0.35 to 1.44; RD 22 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 50 fewer to 34 more; very low-certainty evidence); and PE (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.25 to 3.95; RD 0 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 14 fewer to 54 more; very low-certainty evidence).

ASA versus LMWH

Two RCTs compared ASA to LMWH at six months follow-up. The pooled data did not confirm or exclude a beneficial or detrimental effect of ASA relative to LMWH on all-cause mortality (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.06 to 15.81; RD 0 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 2 fewer to 38 more; very low-certainty evidence); symptomatic DVT (RR 1.23, 95% CI 0.49 to 3.08; RD 5 more per 1000, 95% CI 11 fewer to 43 more; very low-certainty evidence); PE (RR 7.71, 95% CI 0.97 to 61.44; RD 7 more per 1000, 95% CI 0 fewer to 60 more; very low-certainty evidence); major bleeding (RR 6.97, 95% CI 0.36 to 134.11; RD 6 more per 1000, 95% CI 1 fewer to 133 more; very low-certainty evidence); and minor bleeding (RR 1.42, 95% CI 0.35 to 5.78; RD 4 more per 1000, 95% CI 7 fewer to 50 more; very low-certainty evidence).

One RCT compared ASA to LMWH at two years follow-up. The pooled data did not confirm or exclude a beneficial or detrimental effect of ASA relative to LMWH on all-cause mortality (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.06 to 15.89; RD 0 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 4 fewer to 68 more; very low-certainty evidence); symptomatic DVT (RR 1.20, 95% CI 0.53 to 2.72; RD 9 more per 1000, 95% CI 21 fewer to 78 more; very low-certainty evidence); and PE (RR 9.00, 95% CI 0.49 to 166.17; RD 8 more per 1000, 95% CI 1 fewer to 165 more; very low-certainty evidence).

VKA versus LMWH

One RCT compared VKA to LMWH at six months follow-up. The data did not confirm or exclude a beneficial or detrimental effect of VKA relative to LMWH on all-cause mortality (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.01 to 8.10; RD 3 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 5 fewer to 32 more; very low-certainty evidence); symptomatic DVT (RR 2.32, 95% CI 0.91 to 5.93; RD 36 more per 1000, 95% CI 2 fewer to 135 more; very low-certainty evidence); PE (RR 8.96, 95% CI 0.49 to 165.42; RD 8 more per 1000, 95% CI 1 fewer to 164 more; very low-certainty evidence); and minor bleeding (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.03 to 3.17; RD 9 fewer per 1000, 95% CI 13 fewer to 30 more; very low-certainty evidence). The study reported that no major bleeding occurred in either arm.

One RCT compared VKA to LMWH at two years follow-up. The data did not confirm or exclude a beneficial or detrimental effect of VKA relative to LMWH on all-cause mortality (RR 2.00, 95% CI 0.18 to 21.90; RD 5 more per 1000, 95% CI 4 fewer to 95 more; very low-certainty evidence); symptomatic DVT (RR 1.70, 95% CI 0.80 to 3.63; RD 32 more per 1000, 95% CI 9 fewer to 120 more; very low-certainty evidence); and PE (RR 9.00, 95% CI 0.49 to 166.17; RD 8 more per 1000, 95% CI 1 fewer to 165 more; very low-certainty evidence).

ASA versus DOAC

One RCT compared ASA to DOAC at six months follow-up. The data did not confirm or exclude a beneficial or detrimental effect of ASA relative to DOAC on DVT, PE, and major bleeding and minor bleeding (minor bleeding: RR 5.00, 95% CI 0.31 to 79.94; RD 4 more per 1000, 95% CI 1 fewer to 79 more; very low-certainty evidence). The study reported that no DVT, PE, or major bleeding events occurred in either arm. These results did not change in a meta-analysis including the study published as an abstract.