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Doctors' Answers to "Frequently Asked Questions" - Erythropoietin

These comments are made for the purpose of discussion and should NOT be used as recommendations for or against therapies or other treatments. An individual patient is always advised to consult their own physician.

Erythropoietin [posted 1/6/99]
Question: How does the insurance works regarding the cost? My mother-in-law has breast cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and anemia. I would really appreciate any help I can get.

Answer: This is a hormone made by the kidney, which causes the bone marrow to manufacture red blood cells. It has been successfully cloned and made now by a manufacturing process. Consequently, we can induce the bone marrow to increase red cell production and block some of the negative effects of chemotherapy. The cost is about $12000 a year depending on how often you need it (can be 1-2000 for example if you only need it on rare occasions). Well tolerated since it mimics one of the hormones in your body that you make every day. Insurance coverage varies from company to company, you would need to check with hers, but it is usually covered in most plans. However, they have criteria for giving it (blood counts below a certain level for example).

Question: Can you give me some information about erythropoietin?

Answer: This is a hormone naturally produced by the kidney. It is a messenger to "turn on" bone marrow production of red blood cells. This hormone has been cloned and is being produced commercially. It is given to patients whose kidneys are not producing sufficient erythropoietin to keep adequate blood counts. This is usually below a Hct of 36 (set by federal and insurance reimbursement guidelines). The frequency of administration varies from patient to patient depending on the severity of the problem. That is underproduction of the hormone. Renal failure patients will receive injections about 2-3 times a week. It is administered by injection only. Side effects appear minimal. Occasional athletes have used this drug to increase their blood counts before athlete events. It improves performance in long distance events. This is not an approved usage.

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