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Anemia drugs hasten death in some cancer patients

Posted by medconsumers on July 13, 2009

For seven years Johnson & Johnson ran deceptive ads on prime time TV and in magazines with this recurring theme: A cancer patient cannot continue working because of debilitating fatigue due to chemotherapy. The ads told people in similar circumstances to ask their doctors about Procrit, which always quickly put an end to the fatigue. There is no published evidence to support the cure-for-fatigue claim, according to a 2007 press briefing at the FDA. Eventually, the agency required warning labels for Procrit, Aranesp, and Epogen —- all drugs widely prescribed to treat anemia in cancer patients. Warning label refers to the black box warning that appears in the 20 or so pages of information that comes with the drug (sometimes). The warnings for Procrit, Aranesp, and Epogen now list a higher incidence of potentially fatal blood clots, heart damage and increased tumor growth.

Now they can add “decreased survival” to the list. This week, the Cochrane Collaboration, the independent, international organization that evaluates research, published a meta-analysis of the information generated by the care of nearly 14,000 cancer patients entitled, “Anti-anemia drugs shorten survival for some cancer patients.” This meta-analysis is co-authored by Maryann Napoli, Center for Medical Consumers. For background on how their drugs came on the market and how financial incentives encouraged oncologists to overprescribe them, see her testimony on this topic before the FDA’s Oncologic Drug Advisory Committee in 2007 and one year later in 2008.

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