Darbepoetin Alfa (Aranesp®)

Last Modified: August 21, 2011

Pronounced: DAR-be-POE-e-tin AL-fa
Classification: Erythropoiesis-Stimulating Agent

About Darbepoetin Alfa

Darbepoetin Alfa works by stimulating red blood cell production in the bone marrow. In our bodies, a decrease in the red blood cell count or hemoglobin causes the kidneys to release a protein called erythropoietin, which in turn stimulates the bone marrow to make more red blood cells. Darbepoetin alfa is a man-made version of erythropoietin, which can also stimulate red blood cell production.

Darbepoetin 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.

How to Take Darbepoetin Alfa

Darbepoietin alpha is most often given as a subcutaneous injection (given under the skin), but can also be given intravenously (into a vein, or IV). The actual dose is based on your body size and will be determined by your healthcare provider.

Possible Side Effects of Darbepoetin Alfa

There are a number of things you can do to manage the side effects of Darbepoetin 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:

High Blood Pressure

Darbepoietin alpha 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 periodically. People who have uncontrolled high blood pressure should not take darbepoetin alpha.

Reaction to the Injection

Some people experience redness, swelling, pain or itching at the site of injection. This reaction may be an allergy to the ingredients in darbepoetin alpha, 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.

Development of Antibodies

A very rare side effect is the possibility that your body may make antibodies against darbepoetin alpha. 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

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.

Other Concerns

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.


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