July 1st 2006
Patients with cancer may have an absolute or functional iron deficiency as a result of their disease or its treatment. These conditions can lead to an insufficient supply of iron for incorporation into erythrocytes during supportive care with erythropoiesis-stimulating proteins for chemotherapy. The use of supplemental iron therapy is well established in patients with chronic kidney disease and anemia, but less well studied in the oncology/hematology setting. Furthermore, the use of oral iron formulations in patients with cancer and anemia is limited by poor absorption in the duodenum, arduous dosing requirements (three times a day), and a high likelihood of gastrointestinal side effects. Two recent studies have shown that intravenous (IV) iron (iron dextran or ferric gluconate) increases the hematopoietic response rates in cancer patients who were receiving chemotherapy and treated with epoetin alfa (Procrit) for anemia. The effects on hemoglobin levels and measures of iron metabolism were notably greater with IV iron formulations than with oral iron formulations. The results from several ongoing trials of IV iron in patients treated with epoetin alfa or darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp) for chemotherapy-induced anemia should lead to a greater understanding of the role of IV iron supplementation in improving the hematopoietic responses in these patients.