Darbepoetin Alfa (Aranesp®)

OncoLink Team
Last Modified: September 21, 2015

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 number of red blood cells or hemoglobin level 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. This medication can also be used to treat anemia caused by chronic kidney disease.

How to Take Darbepoetin Alfa

Darbepoetin alfa 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.  You may receive darbepoetin alfa at your treatment site or self-administer at home.

Storage and Handling

Do not shake or freeze darbepoetin alfa.  Store vials in the refrigerator and protect them from light. Keep the vials out of the reach of children. Do not reuse single dose vials, syringes or needles. Do not throw the vials, syringes, or needles in the household trash. Dispose of all used needles and syringes in a puncture-proof disposable container with a lid. The FDA provides further information about the disposal of vials, syringes and needles.  

Where do I get this medication?

Depending on your insurance coverage, this medication may be supplied by a home infusion company or through a specialty pharmacy.  If covered through your pharmacy plan, your oncology team will work with your prescription drug plan to identify an in-network specialty pharmacy for distribution of this medication and shipment directly to your home. 

Insurance Information

Depending on your insurance coverage, this medication may be covered under your major medical plan OR your prescription plan. Your oncology team will work with your insurance company and pharmacy plan to determine who will supply the drug. Patient assistance may be available to qualifying individuals without prescription drug coverage. Co-pay assistance through private, third party foundations may also be available to those who meet income and diagnostic requirements. Your care team can help you find these resources, if they are available.

Possible Side Effects

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

This medication can cause high blood pressure (hypertension). Patients should have their blood pressure checked regularly during therapy. Any hypertension should be treated appropriately. If hypertension cannot be controlled, the medication may be stopped. Report any headache or dizziness to your provider.

Allergic Reactions

In some cases, patients can have an allergic reaction to this medication. Signs of a reaction can include: shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chest pain, rash, flushing or itching or a decrease in blood pressure. If you notice any changes in how you feel during the injection/infusion, let your nurse know immediately.

Development of Antibodies

A very rare side effect is the possibility that your body may make antibodies against erythropoietin. 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, Heart Attack and Stroke

This medication can increase the risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack. If you experience symptoms of these problems, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately or go to an emergency room. Symptoms can include: swelling, redness or pain in an extremity, a cool or pale arm or leg, chest pain or pressure, pain in your arm, back, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, numbness or weakness on one side of the body, trouble talking, confusion or mental status changes.

Other Concerns

Studies of this medication have found that it may make some tumors 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 restrictions on which patients can receive this therapy. Your doctor will talk to you about the risks of this therapy prior to starting treatment.


Click on any of these terms for more related articles

Frequently Asked Questions