Anemia is a common side effect of cancer and/or chemotherapy treatment of cancer. Anemia may be associated with symptoms of fatigue or tiredness, shortness of breath, and necessitate blood transfusions and their associated risk of infection. Normal production of red blood cells requires erythropoietin, a substance manufactured and secreted by the kidneys, that stimulates red blood cell production in the bone marrow. Erythropoietin can be manufactured outside the body and administered to patients with the goal of correcting anemia. In order to determine the potential benefit of erythropoietin, investigators performed a large clinical trial in patients with multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who were anemic and required blood transfusions. Patients were randomly treated with 1 of 2 doses of erythropoietin or received no treatment of their anemia and compared. Patients treated with erythropoietin experienced a significant improvement in their anemia and a marked reduction in blood transfusion requirements compared to patients not treated with erythropoietin. Patients not treated with erythropoietin required continued blood transfusions, almost twice as frequently as patients treated with erythropoietin. It was additionally observed that patients achieving the best response to erythropoietin had the lowest levels of erythropoietin measured in their blood.
In summary, treatment of anemia with erythropoietin can improve the severity of anemia and markedly diminish the blood transfusion requirements of patients with multiple myeloma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (Blood, Vol 87, No 7, pp 2675-2682, 1996)