Open Access Open Badges Research article

Diagnosis and management of people with venous thromboembolism and advanced cancer: how do doctors decide? a qualitative study

Miriam J Johnson12*, Laura Sheard2, Anthony Maraveyas23, Simon Noble4, Hayley Prout4, Ian Watt12 and Dawn Dowding5

Author Affiliations

1 Hull York Medical School, Hertford Building, The University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull, HU6 7RX, UK

2 Department of Health Sciences, The University of York, York, UK

3 Academic Department of Oncology, Queens Centre for Oncology and Haematology, Castle Hill Hospital, Hull, UK

4 Department of Primary Care and Public Health, School of Medicine, The University of Cardiff, Cardiff, UK

5 School of Healthcare, The University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2012, 12:75  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-75

Published: 20 July 2012



The treatment of cancer associated thrombosis (CAT) is well established, with level 1A evidence to support the recommendation of a low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) by daily injection for 3–6 months. However, registry data suggest compliance to clinical guidelines is poor. Clinicians face particular challenges in treating CAT in advanced cancer patients due to shorter life expectancy, increased bleeding risk and concerns that self injection may be too burdensome. For these reasons decision making around the diagnosis and management of CAT in people with advanced cancer, can be complex, and should focus on its likely net benefit for the patient. We explored factors that influence doctors’ decision making in this situation and sought to gain an understanding of the barriers and facilitators to the application of best practice.


Think aloud exercises using standardised case scenarios, and individual in depth interviews were conducted. All were transcribed. The think aloud exercises were analysed using Protocol Analysis and the interviews using Framework Analysis.

Participants: 46 participants took part in the think aloud exercises and 45 participants were interviewed in depth. Each group included oncologists, palliative physicians and general practitioners and included both senior doctors and those in training.

Setting: Two Strategic Health Authority regions, one in the north of England and one in Wales.


The following key issues arose from the data synthesis: the importance of patient prognosis; the concept of “appropriateness”; “benefits and burdens” of diagnosis and treatment; LMWH or warfarin for treatment and sources of information which changed practice. Although interlinked, they do describe distinct aspects of the factors that influence doctors in their decisions in this area.


The above factors are issues doctors take into account when deciding whether to send a patient to hospital for investigation or to anticoagulate a patient with confirmed or suspected VTE. Many factors interweave and are themselves influenced by and dependent on each other. It is only after all are taken into account that the doctor arrives at the point of referring the patient for investigation. Some factors including logistic and organisational issues appeared to influence whether a patient would be investigated or treated with LMWH for a confirmed VTE. It is important that services are optimised to ensure that these do not hinder the appropriate investigation and management of individual patients.

Venous thromboembolism; Cancer; Palliative; Clinical decision making