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Anemia Drugs May Raise Death Risk in Cancer Patients
Date:4/30/2009

Latest findings support recent label warnings for Procrit, Aranesp, experts say,,

THURSDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- Two new studies provide more evidence that drugs such as Procrit and Aranesp, often used by cancer patients to fight anemia-linked fatigue, may boost the risk of death and serious adverse events such as blood clots.

These drugs, called erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), have also been associated in prior studies with increased risk of heart attack, stroke and tumor growth. The primary argument for the continued use of these drugs is that they help reduce the number of blood transfusions some cancer patients need, while improving quality of life.

However, a co-author of one paper, Dr. Anthony Reiman, from the University of Alberta, Canada, said his team is "supporting other groups that are recommending great caution in using these drugs for cancer patients, and in routine circumstances they may not be indicated. We hope the drugs would still be made available for people for whom transfusion isn't a good option -- but those are very limited circumstances."

ESAs include erythropoietin (Epogen, Procrit) and darbepoetin (Aranesp). They work by stimulating the bone marrow to produce new red blood cells, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. They are used to treat anemia caused by chemotherapy and to treat anemia in people with chronic kidney disease who are on dialysis.

But rising concern led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2007 to ask the drugs' manufacturers to add a "black box" warning to the medications. The warning indicates that the medications should be used at the lowest possible doses to avoid risks such as blood clots, heart attacks, stroke, congestive heart failure, increased tumor growth and an increased risk of death. The FDA also recommended that the medications be prescribed at the lowest doses possible because trials generally indicated an increa
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