Anemia is a common complication caused by chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Patients with anemia experience fatigue and may require blood transfusions depending on their symptoms and severity of anemia. Erythropoietin is a red blood cell growth factor approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of anemia associated with chemotherapy. Erythropoietin has been demonstrated in carefully controlled clinical studies to reduce the severity and duration of anemia and improve the patient’s overall sense of well-being following treatment with chemotherapy. Doctors in Italy recently reported the results of a clinical study evaluating whether erythropoietin administered concurrently with chemotherapy could prevent the development of anemia.

In this clinical study, 62 women with early stage breast cancer were treated with adjuvant chemotherapy alone, or along with erythropoietin administered by subcutaneous injection 3 times a week while receiving chemotherapy. Throughout the 6 cycles of chemotherapy, patients treated with erythropoietin were more likely to maintain stable values of hemoglobin and less likely to develop anemia than patients not treated with erythropoietin . At completion of chemotherapy, the average decrease in the hemoglobin in patients not treated with erythropoietin was over 300% greater than that observed in patients treated with erythropoietin . No patients treated with erythropoietin developed clinically significant anemia, while 50% of patients not treated with erythropoietin did.

In summary, the results of this clinical study suggest that erythropoietin can safely be administered during chemotherapy and can prevent the development of clinically significant anemia in cancer patients. By preventing the development of anemia during treatment with chemotherapy, cancer patients may be able to avoid receiving blood transfusions and the associated risk of infectious disease transmission. (Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol 15, No 7, pp 2715-2721, 1997)

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