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J Clin Oncol. 1998 Feb;16(2):434-40.

Epoetin beta in the treatment of anemia in patients with advanced gastrointestinal cancer.

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Department of Oncology, Uppsala, Sweden.



The possibility that epoetin beta (EPO) could increase hemoglobin (B-Hb) levels and improve quality of life (QoL) in patients with advanced gastrointestinal cancers was investigated.


One hundred patients with gastric, pancreatic, biliary, or colorectal cancers and subnormal B-Hb levels were included in a randomized study to test low-dose EPO (2,000 U subcutaneously thrice weekly [2,000 group]) against a higher dose (10,000 U times three [10,000 group]). Eighty-four patients were treated with chemotherapy. QoL was evaluated using the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) QLQ-C30 instrument.


At baseline, mean B-Hb was 108 g/L with no difference between the groups. In the 10,000 group, an increase in B-Hb (>10 g/L) was seen in 30 (73%) patients treated with chemotherapy, after a median of 4 weeks, whereas a corresponding increase in the 2,000 group was seen in 15 (30%) patients after a median of 10 weeks (P < .001). A difference in the proportion of responders (five of eight v one of eight) was also seen in the group of patients not treated with chemotherapy. The proportion of responders was independent of baseline endogenous serum EPO level or observed/predicted log10 serum (S)-EPO levels. Patients who demonstrated improved B-Hb levels also showed improvements in QoL parameters. Tumor response was usually also associated with QoL improvements.


Treatment with EPO at a dose of 10,000 U thrice weekly can rapidly and safely increase B-Hb levels in a high proportion of patients with advanced gastrointestinal cancers. QoL is influenced by the B-Hb increase, but also by the course of the underlying malignancy. It is therefore difficult to define clearly the clinical relevance of the B-Hb increase as such.

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