Anemia Drugs Increase Cancer Death Rates

Armen Hareyan's picture

Anemia drugs widely used in cancer treatment increase risk of deaths and blood clots called venous thromboembolisms (VTE).

Most popular anemia drugs - erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) - are Aranesp from Amgen and Epogen from Johnson & Johnson. These are proved by U.S. National Institutes of Health as a successful treatment for those cancer patients lacking red-blood-cells. These patients were having blood transfusions before anemia drugs were approved.

A team of scientists from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago examined data from 51 phase III clinical trials evaluating anemia drug use in cancer patients involving 13611 patients. The trials have been conducted from 1985 to 2005. The study found that drug use increased cancer deaths by 10% and blood clot cases by 57%.


"Our findings, in conjunction with basic studies, raise the concern that the drug may be stimulating cancer and shortening cancer patients' survival," said Dr. Charles Bennett, the lead author of the study. "Patients should be informed of the risks and benefits of these drugs," he added.

Earlier, other health experts also raised this issue and warned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration about serious side effects of anemia drugs, such as 'blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, congestive heart failure, increased tumor growth, death'. FDA issued a 'black box', requesting the drug to be prescribed and used in very limited doses.

After that warning, sales of anemia drugs decreased by 14% from 2005 to 2006. In mid March the FDA will hold a meeting to discuss further restrictions on the drug to keep it within safe doses.

However, drug makers don't agree with the study, assuring that ESAs are the only alternative to blood transfusions for patients with chemooterapy-induced anemia. They've also reported, that the study 'does not provide an accurate reflection of the safety profile'.