Patients with solid tumors are often anemic even before they undergo cytotoxic therapy. Since the cause of the anemia of cancer is unknown, we examined the possible role of erythropoietin. Using a sensitive radioimmunoassay, we determined serum immunoreactive erythropoietin levels in 81 anemic patients with solid tumors. For any given degree of anemia, the serum concentration of immunoreactive erythropoietin was lower in this group of patients than in a group of control patients with iron-deficiency anemia (P = 0.0001). Furthermore, the expected inverse linear relation between serum levels of immunoreactive erythropoietin and of hemoglobin was absent in the group with cancer. The erythropoietin response was further decreased in patients receiving chemotherapy; it was not influenced by the presence or absence of cisplatin in the treatment regimen. The inability of the patients with cancer to produce erythropoietin was not absolute; if they had hypoxemia, adequate erythropoietin production was restored. We conclude that erythropoietin levels are inappropriately low in anemia associated with cancer, and that erythropoietin deficiency may contribute to the development of this form of anemia. Treatment of the anemia of cancer with erythropoietin may be of value. (N Engl J Med 1990; 322:1689–92.).
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