Vol 87, No 4 (2016)
Review paper
Published online: 2016-05-23

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Erythropoietin and drug resistance in breast and ovarian cancers

Jolanta M. Szenajch, Agnieszka E. Synowiec
DOI: 10.17772/gp/57817
Pubmed: 27321103
Ginekol Pol 2016;87(4):300-304.


Recombinant human erythropoietin (rhEPO) is used in breast and ovarian cancer patients to alleviate cancer- and chemotherapy-related anemia. Some clinical trials have reported that rhEPO may adversely impact survival and increase the risk of thrombovascular events in patients with breast cancer but not with ovarian cancer. The latter may potentially benefit the most from rhEPO treatment due to the nephrotoxic and myelosuppresive effects of standard platinum-based chemotherapy used in ovarian cancer disease.

However, over the last decade the preclinical data have revealed that EPO is not only the principal growth factor and the hormone which regulates erythropoiesis, but also a cytokine with a pleiotropic activity which also can affect cancer cells. EPO can stimulate survival, ability to form metastases and drug resistance not only in continuous breast- and ovarian cancer cell lines but also in breast cancer stem-like cells. EPO receptor (EPOR) can also be constitutively active in both these cancers and, in breast cancer cells, may act in an interaction with estrogen receptor (ER) and epidermal growth factor receptor-2 (HER-2). EPOR, by an EPO-independent mechanism, promotes proliferation of breast cancer cells in cooperation with estrogen receptor, resulting in decreased effectiveness of tamoxifen treatment. In another interaction, as a result of the molecular antagonism between EPOR and HER2, rhEPO protects breast cancer cells against trastuzumab. Both clinical and preclinical evidence strongly suggest the urgent need to reevaluate the traditional use of rhEPO in the oncology setting.

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