Erythropoiesis-Stimulating Protein Support and Survival
July 01, 2006
Anemia is common in many patients with cancer treated with chemotherapy. One option for managing chemotherapy-induced anemia (CIA) is erythropoiesis-stimulating proteins (ESPs), which are indicated for the treatment of CIA in patients with most types of cancer. They have been shown to be safe and effective in numerous well-documented studies, and their side effects are well known. The rate of thrombotic events with the long-acting ESP darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp) has been consistent in studies conducted before and after its approval. The association of thrombotic events with high hemoglobin levels or rapid increases in its levels in patients with cancer remains controversial. Adjusting the dose of the ESP to maintain and monitor a target hemoglobin level of 11 to 12 g/dL is certainly prudent and may help prevent or minimize these events. Chemotherapy-induced anemia has been associated with shorter survival in patients with cancer, and the relation is likely multifactorial. Data on the treatment of CIA with ESPs have not shown a consistent effect on survival. Two studies in patients with hemoglobin levels above the target level showed that survival was shorter in the patients treated with ESPs. A review of data from other trials found no effect of ESPs on survival, and other trials suggested a positive effect. This article reviews data on survival in patients treated with ESPs and discusses five large randomized controlled trials of darbepoetin alfa that are addressing this issue.