The drug epoetin alfa treats anaemia in cancer patients and thereby recuperates their energy levels. Anaemia is a very common side effect of cancer chemotherapy. It results from a decrease in levels of haemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen round the body. The problem with anaemia is that it causes overwhelming exhaustion that is not relieved by rest. Patients find it hard to get the energy together to perform even the simplest everyday tasks.
A new treatment, epoetin alfa, mimics haemoglobin and has just been tested in a group of patients by Cancer Research UK scientists at the University of Sussex. Some of the patients received injections of the drug, some a placebo injection. After their course of treatment, those on the epoetin alfa had significant improvements in their energy levels, ability to do everyday tasks and in their overall quality of life. There are already drugs that can help with the severe nausea that results from chemotherapy. Now epoetin alfa promises a way of tackling chemotherapy-related fatigue too.