Red blood cell transfusion and its alternatives in oncologic surgery-A critical evaluation

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2019 Feb:134:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2018.11.011. Epub 2018 Dec 6.


Although blood transfusions have been used for more than 100 years and their potential to save lives is indisputable, there is still limited data on medium- and long-term outcomes after hemotherapy. Until recently, red blood cell transfusions represented the most commonly employed treatment for cancer anemia. As transfusions have been related to worse patient outcome in oncologic surgery, preventive strategies and alternative treatment approaches in the perioperative setting are warranted. This review aims to evaluate the evidence concerning the impact of transfusion on the course of malignant diseases with a focus on oncologic surgery and to provide a bundle of measures to improve patient care. The perioperative period is pivotal in determining long-term cancer outcome. An increasingly recognized area for improvement during this highly sensitive period is the treatment of anemia for three main reasons: Firstly, anemia has been recognized as an independent predictor of poor prognosis in cancer patients. Secondly, anemia is largely undertreated. Thirdly and probably most importantly, anemia therapy relied and often still relies heavily on red blood cell (RBC) transfusions, which may be an often suboptimal stopgap treatment. Perioperative RBC transfusions should be kept to a minimum due to growing concerns regarding the associated risks, which this review tries to clarify by providing an update of recent literature. This review furthermore discusses treatments for anemia and provides best-practice approaches to improve perioperative management of oncology patients undergoing surgery.

Keywords: Patient blood management in oncologic surgery; Transfusion-associated immunomodulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anemia / etiology
  • Anemia / therapy*
  • Blood Transfusion / methods*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Postoperative Complications / prevention & control*
  • Surgical Procedures, Operative / adverse effects*