Discharge or admit? Emergency department management of incidental pulmonary embolism in patients with cancer: a retrospective study

Srinivas R. Banala, Sai Ching Jim Yeung, Terry W. Rice, Cielito C. Reyes-Gibby, Carol C. Wu, Knox H. Todd, W. Frank Peacock, Kumar Alagappan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Hospitalization and early anticoagulation therapy remain standard care for patients who present to the emergency department (ED) with pulmonary embolism (PE). For PEs discovered incidentally, however, optimal therapeutic strategies are less clear—and all the more so when the patient has cancer, which is associated with a hypercoagulable state that exacerbates the threat of PE. Methods: We conducted a retrospective review of a historical cohort of patients with cancer and incidental PE who were referred for assessment to the ED in an institution whose standard of care is outpatient treatment of selected patients and use of low-molecular-weight heparin for anticoagulation. Eligible patients had received a diagnosis of incidental PE upon routine contrast enhanced chest CT for cancer staging. Survival data was collected at 30 days and 90 days from the date of ED presentation and at the end of the study. Results: We identified 193 patients, 135 (70%) of whom were discharged and 58 (30%) of whom were admitted to the hospital. The 30-day survival rate was 92% overall, 99% for the discharged patients and 76% for admitted patients. Almost all (189 patients, 98%) commenced anticoagulation therapy in the ED; 170 (90%) of these received low-molecular-weight heparin. Patients with saddle pulmonary artery incidental PEs were more likely to die within 30 days (43%) than were those with main or lobar (11%), segmental (6%), or subsegmental (5%) incidental PEs. In multivariate analysis, Charlson comorbidity index (age unadjusted), hypoxemia, and incidental PE location (P = 0.004, relative risk 33.5 (95% CI 3.1–357.4, comparing saddle versus subsegmental PE) were significantly associated with 30-day survival. Age, comorbidity, race, cancer stage, tachycardia, hypoxemia, and incidental PE location were significantly associated with hospital admission. Conclusions: Selected cancer patients presenting to the ED with incidental PE can be treated with low-molecular-weight heparin anticoagulation and safely discharged. Avoidance of unnecessary hospitalization may decrease in-hospital infections and death, reduce healthcare costs, and improve patient quality of life. Because the natural history and optimal management of this condition is not well described, information supporting the creation of straightforward evidence-based practice guidelines for ED teams treating this specialized patient population is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number19
JournalInternational Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Cancer
  • Emergency
  • Incidental pulmonary embolism
  • Outpatient

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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