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Anemia Drug May Not Increase Cancer Survival

Erythropoietin can improve blood health in patients, however

WEDNESDAY, April 6, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The anti-anemia drug erythropoietin may reduce the need for blood transfusions and improve blood health in cancer patients, but there's no conclusive evidence that it prolongs their lives, a new study finds.

Anemia is a common complication among cancer patients. Some researchers have suggested that using human erythropoietin (also called epoetin, and sold under the brand names Epogen and Procrit) to reduce anemia may improve tumor response and cancer patient survival.

Reporting in the April 6 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers at the University of Cologne analyzed 27 studies published between 1993 and 2002. Each of the studies compared erythropoietin treatment to no treatment in a total of nearly 3,300 adult cancer patients.

Patients who received the drug were less likely to require a blood transfusion than those who didn't receive the drug, the researchers found. Treated patients with very low hemoglobin levels at the beginning of the study also were more likely to have a good response in terms of blood health than untreated patients, the study found.

The researchers also found suggestive, but inconclusive, evidence the drug may improve overall survival of cancer patients. However, they noted that their analysis did not include two more recent studies that found that cancer patients treated with erythropoietin actually had worse survival than untreated patients.

"In view of the inconclusive evidence presently available, our results suggest that erythropoietin should not be used to increase overall survival outside clinical trials," the study authors wrote.

"Erythropoietin may be used to reduce the need for transfusion in patients with falling hemoglobin levels," they add. But they also believe doctors should monitor patients on the drug for adverse events such as clotting and high blood pressure.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about epoetin.

SOURCE: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, news release, April 4, 2005
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