Erythropoietin increases hemoglobin during radiation therapy for cervical cancer

Kathryn E. Dusenbery, Warren A. McGuire, Penne J. Holt, Linda F. Carson, Jeffrey M. Fowler, Leo B. Twiggs, Roger A. Potish

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Purpose: Anemia during radiation therapy independently predicts poor outcome in patients with cervical cancer. Despite a randomized trial demonstrating red cell transfusions improve local control and survival, many patients are not transfused due to toxicity concerns. This study evaluates the efficacy of recombinant human erythropoietin (r-HuEPO) in reversing anemia in patients undergoing radiation therapy. Methods and Materials: Twenty patients with criteria of anemia (Hgb < 12.5 g/dL) and surgically staged cervical cancer FIGO stages IB (n = 7), IIA (n = 1), IIB (n = 9), and IIIB (n = 3), ranging in ages from 23-75 years (median 43), were included in this Phase I/II study. Fifteen were treated with r-HuEPO (200 U/kg/day) and ferrous sulfate 5-10 days prior to initiation of external beam radiation therapy, continuing until Hgb was ≤ 14 g/dL or completion of radiation therapy. Five patients were treated with ferrous sulfate alone. An additional 61 historical controls meeting eligibility criteria were analyzed. All received external beam radiation therapy and two intracavitary cesium applications. Cisplatinum chemotherapy (20 mg/m2/week) was given as a radiosensitizer in 14 r-HuEPO patients, 4 concurrent controls, and 17 historical controls. Results: A marked reticulocytosis was seen in the r-HuEPO group, but not the study controls. In the r-HuEPO group, the mean ± SD serum Hgb rose +30% over the course of radiation therapy from a baseline of 10.3 ± 1.04 g/dL to 13.2 ± 1.7 g/dL. Average increase in Hgb was 0.5 g/dL per week. Average Hgb during RT was 13.4 g/dL. In study and historical controls, mean initial Hgb levels were 10.7 ± 1.04 g/dL and 11.1 ± 1.3g/dL, respectively, remaining unchanged over the course of radiation therapy. Average Hgb levels during radiation therapy were 11.1 g/dL in study controls and 11.4 g/dL in historical controls, significantly lower than r-HuFP0 patients (p = 0.0001). Erythropoietin was well tolerated. There were no significant differences in white blood counts (p = 0.6) or platelet counts (p = 0.4) between r-HuEPO patients and both control groups. No patients had blood pressure changes during r-HuEPO therapy. The only possible side effect was deep venous thrombosis, occurring in two patients who were withdrawn from r-HuFP0 therapy. Two additional patients developed deep venous thrombosis 9 and 10 days after radiation therapy and r-HuFP0 were completed. Conclusion: Erythropoietin appears to be both safe and effective at raising Hgb levels in anemic cervical cancer patients receiving radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1079-1084
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 30 1994


  • Anemia
  • Cervix cancer
  • Erythropoietin (r-HuEPO)
  • Radiation therapy (RT)


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