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Erythropoietin Anemia Drugs for Cancer Patients May Speed Tumor Growth

Filed June 3rd, 2008 amy

used in cancer patients may actually speed progression of the cancer in certain individuals, but according to a recent HealthDay News report, researchers may have found a way to determine who those individuals are.

“We may have a test to predict whether a patient is susceptible to having their tumor progress if treated with erythropoietin and, alternatively, we may be able to predict patients it would be safe to treat with erythropoietin,” study author Dr. Tony Blau, of the University of Washington in Seattle, said during a Sunday news conference at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago.

The results of the current study were based on analyses of tumor samples from 101 patients diagnosed with head and neck cancer who had participated in a previous phase III trial of erythropoietin. High levels of EpoR mRNA in patients who had undergone radiation but not surgery tended to signal a worse prognosis. There was a similar effect with Janus Kinase 2 (Jak2), the main intermediary of EpoR signaling, Blau added. Although these are preliminary findings, if they hold up, “they may mean that we may be able to use ESAs in targeted ways.”

Another study found the multiple drugs elderly cancer patients may already be taking could interact significantly with chemotherapy. In particular, patients taking drugs that interfered with protein binding such as Norvasc for high blood pressure, Prilosec for heartburn, and the pain reliever Celebrex were more likely to experience hematologic side effects such as low white blood cell counts.

There has been quite a bit of controversy recently over erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) such as Procrit, Epogen and Aranesp. The debate has centered around whether the blood-boosting drugs should be withdrawn from the market because of troubling side effects. In March, the FDA advisory panel voted to recommend continued use of the drugs for patients on chemotherapy, unless the patient is likely to be cured. They also voted to recommend against the drugs’ use in patients with breast or head and neck cancer. Eight clinical trials now suggest these medications actually speed the growth of tumors and shorten the lives of cancer victims. The drugs’ manufacturers added a “black box” warning to the medications last November.

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