Some Tumors Contain Erythropoietin Receptors

Study seeks to explain adverse effects seen with epoetin beta

THURSDAY, Oct. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Administration of epoetin beta to treat cancer-related anemia may actually decrease survival among head and neck cancer patients with erythropoietin receptor-positive tumors, according to a study published in the Oct. 10 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Michael Henke, M.D., of the University of Freiburg in Germany, and colleagues found that the 104 patients who showed erythropoietin-receptor expression on their cancer cells had poorer progression-free survival when they received epoetin beta compared with their counterparts who received placebo. By contrast, epoetin beta did not affect the clinical course of patients with erythropoietin receptor-negative cancers.

Henke and colleagues conducted the study because two large trials showed decreased survival and disease control among patients who received this treatment despite its growing use to treat cancer-related anemia. As a result of the new findings, the researchers suggest that stimulation with recombinant erythropoietin may protect residual receptor-positive tumors from radiation.

"As the role of erythropoietin/ erythropoietin receptors in cancer cells continues to be elucidated, serious deliberation is required in regard to the current clinical guidelines for the use of recombinant erythropoietin in cancer patients," write Stephen Y. Lai, M.D., Ph.D., and Jennifer R. Grandis, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, in an accompanying editorial.

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