According to results presented at the 25th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, the use of epoietin alfa (Procrit) improves energy levels and quality of life in patients receiving treatment for breast cancer.

The majority of patients diagnosed with breast cancer receive chemotherapy as part of a treatment regimen. Side effects associated with chemotherapy are notorious for significantly reducing the quality of life of patients while undergoing treatment as well as robbing patients of energy and strength (asthenia). Many patients have also reported a decline in mental and neurological (cognitive) function. One common side effect caused by chemotherapy that may contribute to these common complaints is the reduction of levels of red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen and nutrients to cells in the body, as well as discard waste from the cells. Anemia can lead to extreme fatigue and cellular dysfunction and may necessitate blood transfusions. Epoetin alfa is an agent that is used to stimulate the production of red blood cells in the body and thus reduce and/or prevent anemia and its associated effects. It has been demonstrated that the use of epoetin alfa reduces the need for blood transfusions in cancer patients. A longer-acting form of epoetin alfa, Aranesp® has demonstrated effectiveness equivalent to epoetin alfa with a reduction in the administration needs and medical costs.

Researchers from Texas recently conducted a study to evaluate epoetin alfa on the effects of quality of life, asthenia and cognitive function in women receiving chemotherapy as treatment for breast cancer. Chemotherapy consisted of an anthracycline (doxorubicin or epirubicin) with or without a taxane (Taxotere® or paclitaxel). Patients were randomly selected to receive epoetin alfa or a placebo (inactive substitute). Several evaluations were used to test differences in quality of life, asthenia and cognitive function and were given to all patients prior to therapy as a baseline reading, before the fourth cycle of chemotherapy and 6 months following chemotherapy. Patients treated with epoetin alfa had a significantly improved quality of life and reduced asthenia, compared to patients who received placebo. Patients treated with epoetin alfa also had modestly improved cognitive function and a larger studying evaluating this issue is ongoing to confirm this finding.

The researchers concluded that epoetin alfa improves quality of life and reduces asthenia in breast cancer patients being treated with anthracycline-based chemotherapy. Patients who are to be treated with chemotherapy may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of epoetin alfa or Aranesp®, two commercially available products, or the participation in a clinical trial evaulating other supportive care measures. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and www.eCancerTrials.com eCancerTrials.com also provides personalized clinical trial searches on behalf of patients.

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Reference: O'Shaughnessy J, Vukelja S, Savin M, et al. Impact of epoetin alfa on cognitive function, asthenia, and quality of life in women with breast cancer receiving adjuvant or neoadjuvant chemotherapy: analysis of 6-month follow-up data. Proceedings from the 25th Annual Breast Cancer Symposium. December 2002. Abstract 550.

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