Red Blood Cell Drugs Cause Blood Clots



The drugs Epogen, Aranesp, and Procrit are used to help cancer patients who have been made anemic by chemotherapy by stimulating the production of red blood cells. However, they also increase the risk of venou thromboembolism, blood clots that form in the legs and that can then travel to other parts of the body creating potentially life-threatening conditions.

These drugs already have a nefarious history. In 2006, a study showed aggressive treatment of patients with them lead to a higher incidence of cardiovascular problems and death. In 2007, the FDA required the drugs, known as erythropoiesis-stimulating agents, or ESAs, to carry a warning on their labels, and said patients with low red blood counts should be limited. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute has reported that the drugs have increased the risk of death, but have not shown to have benefitted patients.

The Study

Over 56,000 patients, who were 65 years old or older and were given chemotherapy for breast, colon, non-small cell lung cancer, as well as cancers like B-cell lymphoma, were studied by the Irving Comprehensive cancer Center at Columbia University Medical Center between January 1991 and December 2002. About 27 percent of the patients received ESA drugs. It was found that over 14 percent of those who received the drugs developed blood clots compared to just under ten percent who did not. The death rate was similar in both groups of patients.

Despite the use of ESA drugs, the rate of anemia stood at roughly 22 percent for each group.