PLoS ONE (2020-01-01)

End of an era of administering erythropoiesis stimulating agents among Veterans Administration cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced anemia.

  • Shamia Hoque,
  • Brian J Chen,
  • Martin W Schoen,
  • Kenneth R Carson,
  • Jesse Keller,
  • Bartlett J Witherspoon,
  • Kevin B Knopf,
  • Y Tony Yang,
  • Benjamin Schooley,
  • Chadi Nabhan,
  • Oliver Sartor,
  • Paul R Yarnold,
  • Paul Ray,
  • Laura Bobolts,
  • William J Hrushesky,
  • Michael Dickson,
  • Charles L Bennett

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 15, no. 6
p. e0234541


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Erythropoisis stimulating agent (ESA) use was addressed in Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Oncology Drug Advisory Committee (ODAC) meetings between 2004 and 2008. FDA safety-focused regulatory actions occurred in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, black box warnings advised of early death and venous thromboembolism (VTE) risks with ESAs in oncology. In 2010, a Risk Evaluation Strategies (REMS) was initiated, with cancer patient consent that mortality and VTE risks were noted with ESAs. We report warnings and REMS impacts on ESA utilization among Veterans Administration (VA) cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced anemia (CIA). Data were from Veterans Affairs database (2003-2012). Epoetin and darbepoetin use were primary outcomes. Segmented linear regression was used to estimate changes in ESA use levels and trends, clinical appropriateness, and adverse events (VTEs) among chemotherapy-treated cancer patients. To estimate changes in level of drug prescription rate after policy actions, model-specific indicator variables as covariates based on specific actions were included. ESA use fell by 95% and 90% from 2005, for epoetin and darbepoetin, from 22% and 11%, respectively, to 1% and 1%, respectively, among cancer patients with CIA, respectively (p<0.01). Following REMS in 2010, mean hematocrit levels at ESA initiation decreased from 30% to 21% (p<0.01). Black box warnings preceded decreased ESA use among VA cancer patients with CIA. REMS was followed by reduced hematocrit levels at ESA initiation. Our findings contrast with privately- insured and Medicaid insured cancer patient data on chemotherapy-induced anemia where ESA use decreased to 3% to 7% by 2010-2012. By 2012, the era of ESA administration to VA to cancer patients had ended but the warnings remain relevant and significant. In 2019, oncology/hematology national guidelines (ASCO/ASH) recommend that cancer patients with chemotherapy-induced anemia should receive ESAs or red blood cell transfusions after risk-benefit evaluation.