Get Up and Go With Procrit

Get Up and Go With Procrit

Get Up and Go With Procrit

Jenny Thompson |

An auctioneer who's undergoing chemotherapy finds the strength to return to work. A bed and breakfast owner, also undergoing chemotherapy, is so revitalized that he and his wife are able to open their house to guests again.

If these heartwarming stories sound familiar, it's because you've seen them played out again and again in TV ads for Procrit – the medication that treats anemia prompted by kidney disease, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

"Helps you find the strength you need." That's the Procrit hook.

But now the FDA tells us that there is NO EVIDENCE that Procrit reduces fatigue, increases energy, or improves quality of life for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.

But that's not the worst of it. This extremely expensive drug turns out to be extremely dangerous when not used properly.

Top dollar

Procrit is just one brand in a class of drugs that stimulate erythropoietin – a natural protein that helps boost red blood cell count. These drugs cost about $1,000 per dose. Why the obscenely exorbitant price? I suppose you could argue that the demand is limited and the drug companies have to charge that amount to recoup their investments. (After all, those Procrit ads aren't free.) But according to the Associated press, Procrit and the other two leading drugs in this class had combined sales of $10 billion in 2006.

Obviously, there are many cancer patients out there who are desperate to live without fatigue. And if they're willing to pay the price, that's reasonable, but ONLY if the drug is safe and effective.

Earlier this month, the FDA issued a warning that misuse of erythropoiesis-stimulating drugs may produce dire results:

  • In patients with chronic kidney failure, higher-than-recommended doses of the drug increase the risk of blood clots, heart attack, stroke, and death
  • Normal dosage levels may increase the risk of death or shorten the time to death when given to cancer patients who are not on chemotherapy
  • Tumor growth may be accelerated when higher-than-recommended doses of these drugs are given to patients with head and neck cancer
  • Patients with metastatic breast cancer who receive chemotherapy and erythropoiesis-stimulating drugs may accelerate disease progression and shorten the time to death

The FDA has ordered companies that make these drugs to include a black-box warning, instructing doctors to use the lowest possible doses.

And we've probably seen the last of those heartwarming Procrit ads. The FDA also acknowledged that claims of less fatigue and more energy from erythropoiesis-stimulating drugs are based on studies that involved patients who were on dialysis for kidney failure – not on cancer patients who were undergoing chemotherapy.

Root of the problem

Chemotherapy and radiation kill cancer cells, but both therapies are devastating to the normal functions of your body, depleting nutrient levels and interfering with absorption of nutrients. This sets the stage for anemia in two ways: 1) deficiency of vitamin B-12 and folate, and 2) deficiency of iron.

But before you reach for the iron supplements, HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., warns that the wrong type of iron supplement may create problems.

Dr. Spreen: "I wouldn't treat anemia with inorganic iron. The mineral is too reactive in the body when it is not insulated from the system by being encased within the heme structure of hemoglobin. Free radical formation from free iron is just too much of a threat."

Dietary sources of heme iron are found exclusively in red meat, fish, pork, and poultry, with beef liver and chicken liver having the highest amounts of iron. Dr. Spreen notes that an additional intake of vitamin C can also help the body absorb iron.

As for folate and B-12, Dr. Spreen recommends folic acid supplementation of 1,600 mcg per day, and 1,000 mcg of B-12 per day. He also suggests that to get the most out of folic acid, add 100 mg per day of B-6, as well as 400-500 mg of magnesium per day to make the B-6 more effective.

A botanical formula called Energy Kampo might also help alleviate anemia. Energy Kampo is used for a wide variety of chronic conditions, such as anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and circulatory problems. It's also reputed to lessen the adverse effects of chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. You can find more information about Energy Kampo from the manufacturer's web site:

We first told you about this Japanese formulation of 10 herbal ingredients with an in-depth report in the April 2002 HSI Members Alert. You can find that Members Alert issue at the link below. (For a limited time, we've made this link available to non-members.) 

Be sure to talk with your doctor or a health care professional before including Energy Kampo, folic acid, or B-12 supplements in your daily regimen.

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