BACKGROUND The use of recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO) improves autologous blood donation before elective surgery. However, there are other studies indicating that rHuEPO may suppress postoperative endogenous production of erythropoietin and stimulate inflammatory mediator release. Weekly donations generate only a moderate increase in endogenous erythropoietin production. We scheduled patients with cancer to predeposit three units of blood in 2 weeks,
with or without rHuEPO therapy. The aim was to determine whether rHuEPO therapy and/or an aggressive donation schedule alter perioperative erythropoietin concentrations and whether rHuEPO therapy leads to the release of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and IL-8. METHODS Thirty women scheduled for radical hysterectomy and pelvic lymphadenectomy were randomly assigned to either a control group with no rHuEPO therapy or to receive rHuEPO. Three units of whole blood were collected from each patient before the operation. Concentrations of haemoglobin, erythropoietin (s-EPO) and cytokines (IL-6 and IL-8) were repeatedly analyzed before and after the operation. RESULTS During the preoperative donation period, median s-EPO levels in the control group increased from 7 to 14 IU l(-1). There was a great increase in s-EPO concentrations 1 h postoperatively in the rHuEPO group compared with the control group (P < 0. 001). IL-6 and IL-8 were not significantly changed after intravenous administration of rHuEPO. CONCLUSION The use of rHuEPO therapy to optimise autologous blood donation does not influence IL-6 and IL-8 release. 1 h postoperatively rHuEPO therapy resulted in elevated s-EPO concentrations. There was, however, no difference in s-EPO between the groups from day 1 postoperatively and until the end of the study.