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Thursday, February 28, 2008

She can't help but wonder: Adverse effects of Procrit and Aranesp

Belinda G.'s mother was a chemotherapy patient who was also given anemia drugs. Although Belinda acknowledges that her mother was dying of small cell cancer, Belinda can't help but wonder if the use of anemia drugs resulted in her mother passing away sooner than she would have otherwise.

My mom had been sick since 2000 with lung cancer and it was small cell carcinoma at that time. She beat it and went into remission in 2001. She had never had Procrit or Epogen prior to her remission. Her cancer came back and the cancer spread to her adrenal glands and her organs. They did radiation every day for 10 days and chemo at the same time. The Procrit was given to her in injections that started around February or March 2002.

She was a fighter—at the beginning she even continued working and running apartments. Once she started getting shots more frequently, her cancer got progressively worse. She died rather suddenly on January 15, 2003. She was on the shots until she passed away.

They [medical staff] were telling her that she needed to have the shot because her cell count was low. One time, she asked for it as though she believed it was something she needed to help the situation. I asked why she was taking it, when she did better without it. Back then, there was not a lot known about that.

Every time my mom had chemotherapy, they gave her the anemia shots. She had been doing well until they started the shots. Did they accelerate the process? I don't know. Small cell is inoperable and there was nothing we can do about it. But I think the anemia drugs might have progressed the situation.

Belinda is not the only one left wondering if anemia drugs either caused a loved one's death or accelerated the rate at which a loved one has died. In November, the FDA strengthened the safety warning on Aranesp, Epogen and Procrit to alert patients to the risk of death, heart attack and the progression of certain cancers. Additionally, a new study has been released linking anemia drugs to an increased risk of leukemia in patients with myelofibrosis.

Doctors have also been warned to use the lowest possible doses of the anemia drugs required to avoid a blood transfusion. Patients who receive higher doses of Aranesp, Epogen or Procrit are at an increased risk of accelerated tumor development.

Today Andrew Pollack of the NY Times described a meta-analysis (carefully pooling the results of multiple studies) in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Dr. Charles Bennett and the other authors of the study found that widely used anemia drugs raise the risk of death among cancer patients by 10%.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will convene a meeting on March 13 to discuss restrictions on the use of the drugs.

Advice to cancer patients taking Aranesp or Procrit: Alert your doctor to the study in this highly esteemed medical journal, and ask your doctor whether and how it should affect your treatment.

Browse for similar stories in our index at the very bottom of this page, or read an FDA drug review story.

Thanks to Heidi Turner for the source story in the Jan. 1 issue of LawyersandSettlements.com.

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