Management of anemia in patients undergoing curative radiotherapy: Erythropoietin, transfusions, or better nothing?

Jürgen Dunst*

*Corresponding author for this work
26 Citations (Scopus)


Background and Results: Anemia is a well-known risk factor for decreased local control and survival in patients undergoing curative radiotherapy. There is clear evidence from recent clinical investigations that anemia is an independent risk factor and hemoglobin (Hb) levels during radiotherapy are important (and not pretreatment Hb levels). The most likely explanation for the prognostic impact is the association with tumor hypoxia. An "optimal" Hb range with regard to tumor oxygenation seems to exist, and Hb levels < 11 g/dl and > ∼15 g/dl impair tumor oxygenation but have (over a broader range) no significant impact on normal tissue oxygenation. There is some evidence from retrospective and prospective studies that the response to radiotherapy and the prognosis, especially in cervical cancers, might be improved if the Hb levels during radiotherapy can be maintained in the optimal range, either by transfusions or by erythropoietin. The effect of any antianemic therapy should be analyzed according to whether or not treatment was successful with regard to achieving optimal Hb levels during irrradiation. Erythropoietin is probably more effective in steadily increasing and stabilizing Hb levels, but bears the risk of overcorrection of Hb levels. The clinical relevance of erythropoietin receptors on tumor cells remains questionable. Conclusions:Treatment of anemia with the objective of improving local control and survival in radiotherapy patients is probably more difficult and sophisticated than coping with symptoms of anemia or improving quality of life. Nevertheless, the potential of antianemic treatment is high on the basis of experimental and clinical data, and further clinical trials are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
JournalStrahlentherapie und Onkologie
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)671-681
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 11.2004


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