In the current year, an estimated 1.3 million brave individuals will embark on the challenging journey of cancer treatment, often including chemotherapy. Shockingly, more than two-thirds of these patients will grapple with an additional adversary during their fight against cancer – anemia, characterized by a low red blood cell count. Anemia stands as one of the most prevalent side effects of chemotherapy and can significantly impact patients’ lives, hindering their daily activities and overall well-being.
Effective Management of Anemia During Chemotherapy
Dr. Ralph Boccia, Director of Clinical Research at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Bethesda, Md., explains the intricate relationship between chemotherapy and anemia: “Chemotherapy’s mission is to combat fast-growing cancer cells, but regrettably, it may also harm healthy cells, such as red blood cells that play a vital role in transporting life-sustaining oxygen from the lungs to the body’s muscles.” This unintended consequence leaves the body’s tissues deprived of oxygen, resulting in patients experiencing shortness of breath, extreme weakness, faintness, and debilitating fatigue.
It is worth noting that, among chemotherapy patients, fatigue, a characteristic symptom of anemia, has been reported by more than half of individuals as the most disruptive side effect, surpassing even the dreaded nausea, pain, and emotional struggles like depression. Remarkably, anemia continues to be undertreated despite the availability of effective treatments for over a decade.
Traditionally, anemia treatment demanded extensive time commitments, often exceeding two hours per visit. However, a glimmer of hope has emerged with the recent approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of a groundbreaking treatment option for chemotherapy-induced anemia. This new treatment allows for dosing every three weeks, starting with 500 mcg of Aranesp® (darbepoetin alfa), specifically designed for patients battling certain types of cancer. This breakthrough approach enables physicians to align anemia treatment with most chemotherapy schedules, enhancing convenience for both patients and caregivers. Fewer clinic visits and reduced injections for anemia treatment mean more precious time for patients to engage in their daily activities and cherish moments with their loved ones.
Danielle Mannix, who has personally experienced the challenges of anemia, shares her perspective: “Receiving anemia treatment every three weeks in tandem with my chemotherapy was a game-changer for me and my family. We experienced fewer doctor visits for anemia treatments, which allowed me to reclaim more of my regular daily activities.”
It is important to note that Aranesp is not recommended for patients with uncontrolled hypertension, and as with any medical treatment, erythropoietic therapies may elevate the risk of thrombotic events and other potentially serious complications.
In conclusion, the battle against cancer is arduous, and anemia should not be an additional burden. With the introduction of innovative treatment options, managing anemia during chemotherapy has become more convenient and patient-centered than ever before. It is our hope that this advancement will provide solace and improved quality of life for those on their courageous journey to recovery.