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Venous Thromboembolism and Mortality Associated With Recombinant Erythropoietin and Darbepoetin Administration for the Treatment of Cancer-Associated Anemia

Charles L. Bennett, MD, PhD; Samuel M. Silver, MD, PhD; Benjamin Djulbegovic, MD, PhD; Athena T. Samaras, BA; C. Anthony Blau, MD; Kara J. Gleason, BS; Sara E. Barnato, MD; Kathleen M. Elverman; D. Mark Courtney, MD; June M. McKoy, MD, MPH, JD; Beatrice J. Edwards, MD; Cara C. Tigue, BA; Dennis W. Raisch, PhD; Paul R. Yarnold, PhD; David A. Dorr, MD, MS; Timothy M. Kuzel, MD; Martin S. Tallman, MD; Steven M. Trifilio, RPh; Dennis P. West, PhD; Stephen Y. Lai, MD, PhD; Michael Henke, MD
JAMA. 2008;299(8):914-924. doi:10.1001/jama.299.8.914.
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Context The erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) erythropoietin and darbepoetin are licensed to treat chemotherapy-associated anemia in patients with nonmyeloid malignancies. Although systematic overviews of trials have identified venous thromboembolism (VTE) risks, none have identified mortality risks with ESAs.

Objective To evaluate VTE and mortality rates associated with ESA administration for the treatment of anemia among patients with cancer.

Data Sources A published overview from the Cochrane Collaboration (search dates: January 1, 1985-April 1, 2005) and MEDLINE and EMBASE databases (key words: clinical trial, erythropoietin, darbepoetin, and oncology), the public Web site of the US Food and Drug Administration and ESA manufacturers, and safety advisories (search dates: April 1, 2005-January 17, 2008).

Study Selection Phase 3 trials comparing ESAs with placebo or standard of care for the treatment of anemia among patients with cancer.

Data Extraction Mortality rates, VTE rates, and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were extracted by 3 reviewers from 51 clinical trials with 13 611 patients that included survival information and 38 clinical trials with 8172 patients that included information on VTE.

Data Synthesis Patients with cancer who received ESAs had increased VTE risks (334 VTE events among 4610 patients treated with ESA vs 173 VTE events among 3562 control patients; 7.5% vs 4.9%; relative risk, 1.57; 95% CI, 1.31-1.87) and increased mortality risks (hazard ratio, 1.10; 95% CI, 1.01-1.20).

Conclusions Erythropoiesis-stimulating agent administration to patients with cancer is associated with increased risks of VTE and mortality. Our findings, in conjunction with basic science studies on erythropoietin and erythropoietin receptors in solid cancers, raise concern about the safety of ESA administration to patients with cancer.

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Figure 1. Search Strategy and Selection of Phase 3 Trials That Reported Survival and Venous Thromboembolism Outcomes
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FDA indicates US Food and Drug Administration; ODAC, Oncologic Drug Advisory Committee.

aOf the 13 studies added for this meta-analysis for survival, 12 studies were reported between April 2005 and January 17, 2008. A 13th study was not included in the 2006 Cochrane Review,24 because it was published only as an abstract.

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Figure 2. Meta-analysis of Overall Mortality Rates for Phase 3 Oncology Trials With ESAs vs Placebo or Control, Comparing Anemia of Cancer and Treatment-Related Anemia Trials
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ESAs indicate erythropoiesis-stimulating agents; CI, confidence interval; NR, not reported. Weights are from random-effects analysis. P = .11 for overall is the P value for the test for I2 (the variation in ESA attributable to heterogeneity). ESA-associated mortality (treatment effect on outcomes), P = .03.

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Figure 3. Meta-analysis of VTE Rates in Phase 3 Trials of ESAs vs Placebo or Control
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VTE indicates venous thromboembolism; ESA, erythropoiesis-stimulating agent; CI, confidence interval. Weights are from random-effects analysis. Some trials are represented more than once due to having more than 1 group within the trial. Each ESA-containing group in these trials evaluated different doses of ESAs in comparison with controls. The point estimates and CIs for the bottom 3 trials could not be calculated because no events were reported in these studies.

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