Effects of epoetin alfa on cognitive function, mood, asthenia, and quality of life in women with breast cancer undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy

Clin Breast Cancer. 2002 Dec;3 Suppl 3:S116-20. doi: 10.3816/cbc.2002.s.022.


Several recently published studies describe moderate to severe cognitive dysfunction in breast cancer survivors who were treated with adjuvant chemotherapy 1-5 years before undergoing extensive neuropsychological testing. While these studies are hypothesis-generating and preliminary given their small size and retrospective nature, they consistently suggest that between approximately 15% and 25% of chemotherapy-treated breast cancer patients will have evidence of cognitive dysfunction some years after chemotherapy, compared to about 10% of breast cancer survivors who did not receive chemotherapy. Recent preclinical data strongly suggest that erythropoetin is a potent, endogenous neuroprotective agent that prevents neuronal apoptosis from a variety of insults including hypoxia, trauma, subarachnoidal hemorrhage, and encephalitis. Erythropoietin also appears to enhance learning in a mouse spatial learning maze model. We have conducted a pilot study of epoetin alfa versus placebo in early-stage breast cancer patients who received standard adjuvant anthracycline-based chemotherapy to determine the feasibility of administering standardized neurocognitive assessment tests in the oncology practice setting in order to understand whether the Executive Interview 25 test can detect the subtle cognitive impairment in verbal fluency, attention, and short-term memory observed with chemotherapy, and to assess whether epoetin alfa-treated patients have less evidence of cognitive dysfunction during and 6 months after chemotherapy compared with control-treated patients. We report here the preliminary results of this pilot clinical trial.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Asthenia / prevention & control
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant / adverse effects
  • Cognition Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Cognition Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Epoetin Alfa
  • Erythropoietin / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mastectomy / methods
  • Mice
  • Mood Disorders / prevention & control
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Pilot Projects
  • Prognosis
  • Quality of Life*
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Erythropoietin
  • Epoetin Alfa