Safety concerns surrounding the use of recombinant human erythropoietin (Epo) to treat anemia in cancer patients were raised after 2 recent clinical studies reported a worse survival outcome in patients who received epoetin alpha or epoetin beta compared with patients who received placebo. Although those findings contrasted with previous clinical studies, which demonstrated no difference in survival for cancer patients who received erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs), some investigators have suggested a potential role for ESAs in promoting tumor growth through 1) stimulation of Epo receptors (EpoR) expressed in tumors, 2) stimulation and formation of tumor vessels, and/or 3) enhanced tumor oxygenation. The first and second hypotheses appeared to be supported by some EpoR expression and ESA in vitro studies. However, these conclusions have been challenged because of poor specificity of EpoR-detection methodologies, conflicting data from different groups, and the lack of correlation between in vitro data and in vivo findings in animal tumor models. For this report, the authors reviewed the biology of EpoR in erythropoiesis and compared and contrasted the reported findings on the role of ESAs and EpoR in tumors.
(c) 2007 American Cancer Society.