According to a recent article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, treatment with Procrit® (epoetin alfa) reduces the need for blood transfusions and improves quality of life in cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced anemia.
Anemia is a condition characterized by low levels of circulating red blood cells (RBCs). Red blood cells are responsible for delivering oxygen to tissues throughout the entire body. Bone marrow (spongy material inside large bones) is stimulated to produce RBCs by a chemical substance called erythropoietin, which is secreted by the kidneys. Each RBC contains many molecules of hemoglobin, a protein-iron complex that is responsible for the delivery of oxygen to the cells and carbon dioxide to the lungs.
Common symptoms caused by anemia include severe fatigue, shortness of breath, greatly diminished activity levels and a reduced overall feeling of well-being. Severe anemia often necessitates blood transfusions, which have associated risks of infection, rejection and increased medical costs. Furthermore, severe anemia may cause a delay in the dose of cancer treatment, resulting in suboptimal chances of a cure or optimal long-term survival.
Erythropoietin can be manufactured outside the body and administered to patients. Procrit® is manufactured erythropoietin and is a commonly used drug for cancer patients receiving treatment. Procrit® has been shown to reduce the severity of anemia and reduce symptoms of fatigue in patients receiving treatment by stimulating the bone marrow to produce more RBCs. There are currently two forms of manufactured erythropoietin hat are most often utilized for the treatment of anemia in the United States: Aranesp® (darbepoetin alfa) and Procrit®. Aranesp®, which requires less frequent dosing than Procrit®, has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of anemia caused by chemotherapy in non-myeloid cancers, or cancers that do not originate in blood cells. Less frequent dosing results in fewer injections and fewer office visits for patients, reducing the need for patients and caregivers to take time off from work or leisure. Furthermore, this allows caregivers to spend less time scheduling appointments and giving inpatient care to treat anemia and more time to attend to other patients and work-related activities. The use of Aranesp® is gaining momentum in the clinical setting as results from clinical trials continue to indicate its effectiveness in comparison to Procrit®.
Researchers associated with the National Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG) recently conducted a study to evaluate treatment with Procrit® in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. This study included 330 patients with incurable cancer who had anemia associated with chemotherapy. Patients either received Procrit® once per week for 16 weeks, or placebo (inactive substitute). During the study, the rate of red blood cell transfusions were 25.3% for patients treated with Procrit®, compared to nearly 40% for those receiving placebo. Hemoglobin levels were significantly increased in nearly 73% of patients treated with Procrit®, compared with approximately 32% of patients who received placebo. Overall, patients reported significantly less fatigue and an improved quality of life with increased hemoglobin levels. Longer follow-up is necessary to determine if increased hemoglobin levels ultimately result in improved outcomes.
The researchers concluded that treatment with Procrit® reduces the need for red blood cell transfusions and improves hemoglobin levels in anemic cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Cancer patients who have anemia may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of treatment with Procrit® or Aranesp®.
Reference: Witzig T, Silberstein P, Loprinzi C, et al. Phase III, Randomized, Double-Blind Study of Epoetin Alfa Compared With Placebo in Anemic Patients Receiving Chemotherapy. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2005; 23: 2606-2617.