Efficacy and Cardiovascular Adverse Effects of Erythropoiesis Stimulating Agents in the Treatment of Cancer-Related Anemia: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials
Anemia is a common complication of cancer. Treatment of anemia in cancer is crucial as anemia adversely affects the quality of life, therapeutic outcomes, and overall survival. Erythropoiesis stimulating agents (ESAs) are valuable drugs for treating cancer-related anemia. Cardiovascular adverse effects are a significant concern with ESA therapy, and there is wide variability in therapeutic goals and characteristics of patients who undergo treatment with ESAs. As a result, a careful analysis of the currently available data on the efficacy and safety of these drugs is necessary. This data analysis will aid in the rational use of ESAs for the treatment of anemia in cancer. The objective of this systematic review is to elucidate the pathogenesis of anemia in cancer, assess the effectiveness of ESAs in treating anemia in cancer, and the overall risk of cardiovascular adverse effects associated with the use of ESAs and their impact on prognosis. We searched literature from online databases - PubMed, PubMed Central, MEDLINE, Cochrane Library, and clinical trials register (clinicaltrials.gov) to identify prospective phase II and phase III randomized controlled trials (RCTs). We chose RCTs that directly compared patients with cancer who were treated with ESAs to those who were not treated with ESAs. January 2008 was taken as the lower date limit and May 2021 as the upper date limit. Only English language literature and human studies were included. The quality appraisal was completed using the Cochrane risk bias assessment tool, and data from a total of 10,738 patients with cancer in 17 RCTs were identified and included for systematic review. Our review concludes that ESAs effectively reduce the necessity for blood transfusions and increase mean hemoglobin levels in anemic cancer patients. ESA therapy is associated with cardiovascular adverse effects, including venous thromboembolism, thrombophlebitis, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, cardiac failure, arrhythmia, arterial thromboembolism, and cardiac arrest. Aggressive ESA dosing to achieve higher hemoglobin levels and preexisting uncontrolled hypertension increases these cardiovascular side effects. Venous thromboembolism is the most significant adverse effect attributed to ESA therapy. However, there is no major change in overall survival with ESA therapy, and administration of ESAs can be carried out in anemic cancer patients with careful assessment of thromboembolism risk factors, risk-benefit ratio, and monitoring of hemoglobin levels.