Effects of erythropoietin receptors and erythropoiesis-stimulating agents on disease progression in cancer

Br J Cancer. 2012 Mar 27;106(7):1249-58. doi: 10.1038/bjc.2012.42. Epub 2012 Mar 6.


Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) increase red blood cell (RBC) production in bone marrow by activating the erythropoietin receptor (EpoR) on erythrocytic-progenitor cells. Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents are approved in the United States and Europe for treating anaemia in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy based on randomised, placebo-controlled trials showing that ESAs reduce RBC transfusions. Erythropoiesis-stimulating agent-safety issues include thromboembolic events and concerns regarding whether ESAs increase disease progression and/or mortality in cancer patients. Several trials have reported an association between ESA use and increased disease progression and/or mortality, whereas other trials in the same tumour types have not provided similar findings. This review thoroughly examines available evidence regarding whether ESAs affect disease progression. Both clinical-trial data on ESAs and disease progression, and preclinical data on how ESAs could affect tumour growth are summarised. Preclinical topics include (i) whether tumour cells express EpoR and could be directly stimulated to grow by ESA exposure and (ii) whether endothelial cells express EpoR and could be stimulated by ESA exposure to undergo angiogenesis and indirectly promote tumour growth. Although assessment and definition of disease progression vary across studies, the current clinical data suggest that ESAs may have little effect on disease progression in chemotherapy patients, and preclinical data indicate a direct or indirect effect of ESAs on tumour growth is not strongly supported.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / complications
  • Anemia / drug therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Hematinics / adverse effects*
  • Hematinics / metabolism
  • Hematinics / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Neoplasms / blood supply
  • Neoplasms / complications
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin / metabolism


  • Hematinics
  • Receptors, Erythropoietin