Last Modified: August 21, 2011
Pronounced: e-POE-e-tin AL-fa
Classification: Colony Stimulating Factor
Epoetin alfa is a type of colony stimulating factor, which is a group of medications that stimulate the production and function of blood cells, including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. Epoetin alfa is a man-made form of the protein human, erythropoietin, which stimulates your bone marrow to make more red blood cells. Having more red blood cells also raises your hemoglobin level.
Epoetin Alfa is not a cancer treatment, but a supportive care medicine. This means it is used to counteract the effects of cancer and its treatments.
Epoetin alfa is most often given as a subcutaneous injection (given under the skin). The actual dose is based on your body size and will be determined by your healthcare provider.
There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of Epoetin Alfa. Talk to your doctor or nurse about these recommendations. They can help you decide what will work best for you. These are some of the most common side effects:
Epoetin alfa cause an increase in the number of red blood cells, which can lead to an increase in blood pressure. Your healthcare team will check your blood pressure when you visit them. People who have uncontrolled high blood pressure should not take epoetin alfa.
Some people experience redness, swelling, pain, or itching at the site of injection. This reaction may be an allergy to the ingredients in epoetin alfa, or it may just be an irritation of the area. If you notice any signs of redness, swelling, or itching at the site of injection, talk to your healthcare provider.
A very rare side effect is the possibility that your body may make antibodies against epoetin alfa. These antibodies can block or reduce your body's ability to make red blood cells, causing severe anemia. Symptoms of severe anemia include worsening tiredness, lack of energy, and/or shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, call your healthcare provider.
Blood clots are a rare side effect that can occur anywhere in the body. They occur most frequently in the calves (leg) or the lungs. People at higher risk for developing blood clots include those with a family history of blood clots, smokers, those who have an inactive lifestyle, older patients, and those with other medical problems.
Signs of a blood clot in the leg may include any of the following: leg pain, warmth, swelling of one leg more than the other. Signs of a blood clot in the lung could include: fever, shortness of breath that comes on you very quickly, racing heart, chest pain (that tends to be worse when you take a deep breath).
If you have any of these signs of a blood clot, you need to be seen immediately so that you can receive treatment. Call your doctor or nurse or go to the nearest emergency room.
Studies of this medication have found that it may make a tumor grow faster or result in people dying sooner from their cancer. In addition, some patients had serious heart problems, including heart attack, stroke and heart failure. For these reasons, there are strict limitations on which patients can receive this therapy. Your doctor will talk to you about the risks of this therapy prior to starting treatment.