Aranesp (Darbepoetin Alfa) For Red Blood Cell Production

A Red Blood Cell Boosting Drug for Anemic Breast Cancer Patients

If you are receiving treatments for breast cancer, you may be given doses of Aranesp (darbepoetin alfa). Aranesp is a red blood cell booster for people with anemia, a condition marked by a low red blood cell count, caused by chemotherapy. If you're experiencing complications from your treatments due to low red blood cell counts, Aranesp can be a valuable tool. 

Woman receiving chemotherapy
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Aranesp, Breast Cancer, and Anemia

While undergoing chemo, you will be monitored and screened for any complications. One common test is a Complete Blood Count (CBC), which gives your doctor important information about the kinds and quantities of cells in your blood. If your CBC test shows that your red blood cell count is low, you may be anemic.

Anemia can make fighting breast cancer even harder on you; you may feel especially weak, faint, dizzy or exhausted. You might bruise more easily or have frequent nosebleeds. Anemia can weaken your body and immune system, making it more difficult for your body to fight off disease and infection.

If your doctor finds you have anemia as a result of chemotherapy, he may prescribe you medications to help you produce more red blood cells. Aranesp is one of the most common drugs used for this purpose. Delivered either by injection or through an intravenous infusion (IV), Aranesp can boost your red blood cell production and potentially help you avoid needing a blood transfusion.

How Does Aranesp Work as a Red Blood Cell Booster?

Blood is made in your bone marrow, the soft, spongy tissue in the core of your bones. Chemotherapy for breast cancer will kill some of your fast-dividing cells, including bone marrow cells. Fewer bone marrow cells mean fewer blood cells. Usually, your kidneys produce erythropoietin, a protein that stimulates the production of red blood cells. But during chemo for breast cancer, your kidneys may not make enough erythropoietin. Aranesp is a synthetic version of erythropoietin, and the proper dose of this drug can boost red blood cell production.

How Often Do I Need to Be Treated With Aranesp?

You may be given shots or infusions of Aranesp once a week or once every three weeks, depending on your individual needs. If given every three weeks, the dose can be synchronized with your chemo treatments, saving you extra trips to the clinic for booster shots and cutting down on co-payments. 

What Are the Side Effects of Aranesp?

Aranesp does have serious side effects, so be sure to discuss possible risks with your doctor. He will work with you to determine the lowest possible dose to control your blood cell count while managing potential risks. In patients with breast cancer, the tumor can grow faster and there is the potential of dying sooner if you take Aranesp. 

It can cause serious heart issues, including heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. Blood clots have also been reported while undergoing treatment with Aranesp. Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or swelling in your legs
  • A cool or pale arm or leg
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or difficulty understanding others
  • Weakness in your face, arms, legs or on one side of your body
  • Sudden trouble seeing
  • Sudden trouble walking
  • Loss of consciousness
  • May be associated with cancer progression

Aranesp has other serious side effects, including high blood pressure, seizures, antibodies to Aranesp, meaning your body can block Aranesp and aggravate anemia and serious allergic reactions. 

Recommendations During Treatment

Before your first injection of Aranesp, your doctor will order a CBC to get the levels of your red blood cells, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and iron. As treatment progresses, you will have more blood tests to check the effectiveness of Aranesp and to be sure you are getting the right dose. If you are breastfeeding or pregnant, discuss this with your doctor before taking Aranesp. Not enough studies have been done to determine the effect of this drug on breast milk or the human fetus.

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  2. Muller RJ, Baribeault D. Extended-dosage-interval regimens of erythropoietic agents in chemotherapy-induced anemia. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2007;64(24):2547-56. doi:10.2146/ajhp070018