Drug Linked to Poorer Survival in Anemic Cancer Patients

Darbepoetin alfa also associated with more serious adverse events

THURSDAY, Jan. 31 (HealthDay News) -- The erythropoiesis-stimulating agent darbepoetin alfa has a higher rate of serious adverse events and poorer survival than placebo when used to treat anemic cancer patients, according to a report published online Jan. 28 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Robert E. Smith Jr., M.D., from South Carolina Oncology Associates in Columbia, S.C., and colleagues randomly assigned 989 patients with active cancer and anemia not receiving or planning to receive cytotoxic chemotherapy or myelosuppressive radiotherapy, to placebo or 6.75 micrograms per kilogram darbepoetin alfa every four weeks for up to 16 weeks.

The researchers found that darbepoetin patients tended to have fewer blood transfusions between weeks five and 17. However, the darbepoetin group had a higher incidence of cardiovascular and thromboembolic events, and more deaths during the treatment period, and significantly poorer survival during the two-year follow up.

"If there is one thing that the 2007 annus horribilis for erythropoiesis-stimulating agents has reminded us, it is that even when therapies are used for a long time in large numbers of patients, there are always plenty of unanswered questions," David P. Steensma, M.D., from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., writes in an accompanying editorial.

The study was supported by Amgen.

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