Use of erythropoietin-stimulating agents in breast cancer patients: A risk review

Zachary Crouch, Evelyn R. Hermes DeSantis

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Purpose. The treatment of cancer-induced anemia with erythropoietin- stimulating agents (ESAs) is reviewed. Summary. Before the introduction of ESAs, the only treatment option for cancer-related anemia was red blood cell (RBC) transfusion. The use of ESAs in multiple disease states has been well established and is now considered first-line treatment for many forms of anemia. Chang et al. evaluated the effect of epoetin alfa (40,000 units administered subcutaneously every week) and standard-of-care therapy on quality of life (QOL), transfusion requirements, and hemoglobin levels in 354 patients with breast cancer who had a baseline hemoglobin concentration of <15 g/dL. The authors concluded that early initiation of treatment with epoetin alfa in patients with breast cancer is effective in maintaining hemoglobin levels, reducing transfusions, and improving QOL. Leyland-Jones et al. conducted a study evaluating the effects of early intervention with epoetin alfa (40,000 units administered subcutaneously every week) on survival and QOL of mainly nonanemic patients with metastatic breast cancer. In contrast to Chang et al., this study was discontinued because of lower overall survival rates within the epoetin alfa group. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration issued a black-box warning for both epoetin alfa and darbepoetin alfa. The warning acknowledges that ESAs have shortened overall survival and time to disease progression in patients with advanced breast cancer who are given these agents to achieve a target hemoglobin concentration of ≥12 g/dL. Conclusion. When used in patients with cancer-induced anemia, ESAs should only be given at the lowest dose possible to prevent RBC transfusions. During treatment, hemoglobin levels should be monitored closely and ESA doses need to be adjusted accordingly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1180-1185
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Health-System Pharmacy
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pharmacology
  • Health Policy


  • Anemia
  • Breast neoplasms
  • Darbepoetin alfa
  • Dosage
  • Epoetin alfa
  • Hematopoietic agents
  • Quality of life
  • Toxicity

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