Evaluation of the mechanism of anemia in cancer patients might help to select patients for the more efficient use of erythropoietin (EPO, a growth factor for erythroid precursor cells). For this, we investigated whether the production of EPO responds to anemia and the bone marrow responds to EPO appropriately, and whether chronic inflammation is inhibitory to erythropoiesis in anemic cancer children. Serum levels of EPO, soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR), tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) in anemic cancer children were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and then the correlation coefficients between those parameters and hemoglobin (Hb) were determined. Both in leukemia and in solid tumor patients, there were significant inverse correlations between Hb and EPO (leukemia: tau=-0.547, p<0.0001; solid tumor: tau=-0.591, p<0.0001), and between sTfR and EPO (leukemia: tau=-0.223, p<0.05; solid tumor: tau=-0.401, p<0.05). In contrast, sTfR showed a correlation with Hb in leukemia (tau=0.216, p<0.05) but not in solid tumor patients. sTfR was suppressed in 53% of anemic episodes of leukemia and 78% of those of solid tumor patients. Our results suggest that in cancer children, the EPO production is not defective and chronic inflammation is not inhibitory to erythropoiesis. Rather, the defective erythropoiesis itself is thought to be responsible for the anemia.
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