Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents in the management of cancer patients with anemia: a meta-analysis

Xiaomei Liu, Zhi Yan, Dexiao Kong, Wen Zou, Jihua Wang, Dianshui Sun, Yuhua Jiang, Chengyun Zheng


Background: Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) are widely used in the management of anemia in cancer patients. Despite their apparent effectiveness, recent studies have suggested that ESAs could result in serious adverse events and even higher mortality. The aim of the current study was to evaluate the benefits and risks of ESAs in the management of cancer patients with anemia using a meta-analysis.
Methods: The initial literature search covered Medline, PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Center Register of Controlled Trials, and identified 1,569 articles. The final meta-analysis included eight randomized controlled trials (n=2,387) in cancer patients with <11 g/dL hemoglobin (Hb) at the baseline and target Hb (for stopping ESA treatment) at no more than 13 g/dL. The assessment measures included Hb response, blood transfusion rate and adverse events that included venous thromboemblism (VTE), hypertension, and on-study mortality. The results are expressed as pooled odds ratio (OR). Publication bias was assessed using funnel plot analysis.
Results: ESAs significantly increased the Hb concentration [OR 7.85, 95% confidence interval (CI): 5.85 to 10.53, P<0.001] and reduced the red blood cell (RBC) transfusion rate (OR 0.52, 95% CI: 0.42 to 0.65, P<0.001). ESAs did not increase the accumulated adverse events (OR 0.95, P=0.82), or the on-study mortality (OR 1.09, P=0.47).
Conclusions: ESAs are not associated with increased frequency of severe adverse events in anemic cancer patients when the target Hb value is no more than 13 g/dL.