End of an era for erythropoiesis stimulating agents in oncology.

Int J Cancer. 2020 Feb 9. doi: 10.1002/ijc.32917. [Epub ahead of print]

Schoen MW1,2, Hoque S3, Witherspoon BJ4, Schooley B3, Sartor O5, Yang AT6, Yarnold PR4,7, Knopf KB7, Hrushesky WR4,7, Dickson M7, Chen BJ8, Nabhan C7, Bennett CL4,7.

Author information

  1. Department of Medicine, Saint Louis University School of Medicine, Saint Louis, Missouri.

  2. John Cochran Veterans Affairs Medical Center, St. Louis, MO.

  3. University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing, Columbia, SC.

  4. Medical University of the University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.

  5. Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, LA.

  6. George Washington University, Washington, District of Columbia.

  7. The University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy, Columbia, SC.

  8. Arnold School of Public Health of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC.


Erythropoiesis stimulating agents (ESAs) are available to treat chemotherapy-induced anemia (CIA). In 2007-2008, regulatory notifications advised of venous thromboembolism and mortality risks while the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services' restricted ESA initiation to patients with hemoglobin <10 g/dL. In 2010, a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies required consent prior to administration. We evaluated ESA utilization from 2003 to 2012 and obtained private health insurer claims data for persons with lung, colorectal, or breast cancer from 2001 to 2012. ESA use for CIA was determined by an ESA claim after chemotherapy, up to six months after treatment. We identified 839,948 commercially-insured patients, including 24,785 patients with ESA-treated CIA (3.2%). Darbepoetin use increased 3.9-fold from 2003 to 2007 (12.3% to 48.7%) and then decreased 95% to 2.6% by 2012. Epoetin use decreased 90% from 2003 to 2012 (30.3% to 3.1%). Between 2003-2012, mean epoetin dosing decreased 0.8-fold (244,979 in 2003 versus 196,216 Units in 2012), but increased 1.8-fold for darbepoetin-treated CIA (262 in 2003 to 467 micrograms in 2012). Among CIA patients, transfusions were low (4.5%) in 2002-2007, then increased 2.2-fold between 2008 and 2012. Safety initiatives between 2007 and 2010 facilitated reductions in ESA use combined with changes in coverage. These data show the efficacy of regulatory efforts, publication of adverse events, and changes in reimbursement in reducing use of ESAs. Future studies are warranted to optimize de-implementation strategies to improve patient safety

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