How is Heparin Used as Part of Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer?

Breast Cancer Patient having Chemotherapy Treatment
Heparin and Chemotherapy. Justin Paget / Getty Images

Heparin is a blood thinner used as part of the chemotherapy infusion process. It is used with patients receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer because research indicates ​patients getting chemotherapy may be at risk of developing blood clots. Since Heparin is an anticoagulant, it is used to prevent blood clots in your port catheter line.​

How is Heparin Administered?

At the beginning or the end of your chemotherapy infusion, your nurse will ​inject a vial of heparin into your catheter line to flush it.

Chemotherapy infusions involve a lot of tiny tubes (catheters) through which drugs, saline, and blood may travel. If you have an under-the-skin port for chemotherapy, you will have a catheter line attached to the port, which carries the infusion liquids to your heart, where the drugs mix with a tremendous volume of blood, and then flow throughout your body.

Heparin is injected into your catheter line to prevent blood clots within the tube itself. A clogged catheter is bad because:

  • It prevents a  ​CBC blood draw, as well as your chemo infusion
  • Blood flow is blocked, and may cause pain or swelling in your face, neck, chest, or arm
  • The tube may break or leak, requiring a repair or replacement

A typical post-chemo heparin flush is 5 cc, a very small amount, is unlikely to cause discomfort or side effects.

Precautions to follow with Heparin

  • Avoid this drug if you are allergic to heparin, beef, pork, or any of the ingredients in a heparin injection.
  • Check with your doctor to be sure heparin will not negatively or interact with any of your other medications.
  • If your platelets (cells that help blood clot) are low, your doctor may recommend a saline flush instead.
  • Stop smoking if you have regular heparin injections, as smoking may make heparin less effective.

    Other Uses of Heparin

    In addition to a post-chemotherapy flush, heparin is used to treat blood clots in the legs and lungs. It is also used to prevent surgical blood clots, or during dialysis, or blood draws. Patients who are unable to move for a long period of time will need heparin to prevent deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot that forms in a vein deep inside the leg or thigh). Heparin may be used in appropriate doses for all ages, from newborns to elderly patients.

    A Word From Veywell

    Being your own advocate is important in every phase of treatment. Advocacy is asking about your treatment medications, side effects,and precautions before an infusion and after one, and possible interactions with prescription drugs taken on a regular basis 

    Being as comfortable as you can be during what may be a few hour chemo infusion process begins with choosing the right infusion site prior to starting treatment. You have that right to choose not settle.

    Most cancer centers and many freestanding chemotherapy centers have individual cubicles that give patients privacy. This arrangement lends itself to feeling free to share concerns, ask questions about the medications you are receiving, and share physical responses to your treatment with your nurse as she comes in and out to check on you.

    There is also room for someone to keep you company during treatment.

    Some chemotherapy centers infuse patients in a large open area, sitting in close proximity to one another. This arrangement can be uncomfortable for many reasons, but especially when a patient is feeling sick and doesn't want to be embarrassed in front of the other patients.

    Edited by: Jean Campbell, MS


    Chemocare​ Blood Clots and Chemotherapy

    News Medical​ What is Heparin Last Updated Nov.5, 2014

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