Care During Chemotherapy and Beyond

Epoetin Alfa

(e-POE-eh-tin  AL-fa)

Trade names: PROCRIT® uses generic names in all descriptions of drugs. Procrit is the trade name for epoetin alfa. Epogen is another name for epoetin alfa. In some cases, health care professionals may use the trade name procrit or other names epogen when referring to the generic drug name epoetin alfa.

Drug Type: Epoetin alfa is a colony stimulating factor.  It is a medication for the treatment of anemia. (For more detail, see “How this drug works” section below).

What Epoetin Alfa Is Used For:

  • Epoetin alfa is a supportive care medication. It does not treat cancer.
  • It is used to treat anemia caused by chemotherapy cancer treatment.
  • Epoetin alfa is not indicated for patients with myeloid cancers (cancers that originate in the bone marrow such as acute myelogenous leukemia).
  • Epoetin alfa is not appropriate for the treatment of anemia from other causes such as iron or folate deficiency or gastrointestinal bleeding.  Epoetin alfa is not a substitute for blood transfusion.

How Epoetin Alfa Is Given:

  • This medication is given by subcutaneous (layer of tissue between the skin and the muscle) injection into the arm, abdomen or thigh. 
  • The amount of this medicine you receive depends on many factors, including your weight, your general health, any other health problems you may have, and how your body responds to it.  Your doctor will determine your exact dose and schedule.

Side Effects:

Important things to remember about the side effects of epoetin alfa:

  • Side effects are usually consistent with those typically seen with cancer and chemotherapy.
  • Side effects may be reversible and may subside after treatment is complete

The following side effects are common for patients taking epoetin alfa:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Edema (swelling, usually in the feet or hands)
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tingling
  • Upper respiratory infection 

When to contact your doctor or health care provider:

Contact your health care provider immediately, day or night, if you should experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Tremors or seizures
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Sudden severe headache

The following symptoms require medical attention, but are not an emergency.  Contact your health care provider within 24 hours of noticing any of the following:

  • Nausea (interferes with ability to eat and urelieved with prescribed medication)
  • Vomiting (vomiting more than 4-5 times in a 24-hour period)
  • Diarrhea (4-6 episodes in a 24-hour period)
  • Swelling of the face, feet, hands, arms or legs
  • Swelling, redness and pain in one leg or arm and not the other

Always inform your health care provider if you experience any unusual symptoms.


  • Before starting epoetin alfa treatment, make sure you tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking (including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, or herbal remedies).
  • Epoetin alfa should be used with caution in people with high blood pressure or heart disease.
  • Inform your health care provider if you are pregnant or may be pregnant prior to starting this treatment.  Pregnancy category C (use in pregnancy only when benefit to the mother outweighs risk to the fetus).
  • Discuss with your doctor when you may safely become pregnant or conceive a child after therapy.
  • It is not known whether epoetin alfa is excreted in human milk.  Because many drugs are excreted in human milk, caution should be exercised when epoetin alfa is given to nursing women.

Self-Care Tips:

  • Consult with your doctor regarding iron supplements while taking epoetin alfa.
  • If you experience some nausea and vomiting while receiving this drug, but small frequent meals, chewing gum, lozenges, and good mouth care may help.
  • In general, drinking alcoholic beverages should be kept to a minimum or avoided completely.  You should discuss this with your doctor.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Maintain good nutrition.
  • If you experience symptoms or side effects, be sure to discuss them with your health care team.  They can prescribe medications and/or offer other suggestions that are effective in managing such problems.

Monitoring and Testing:

You will be monitored regularly by your doctor while you are taking epoetin alfa.  Tests will include blood tests (specifically hemoglobin and hematocrit) and blood pressure measurements.

How Epoetin Alfa Works:

Colony-Stimulating Factors
In the body’s bone marrow (the soft, sponge-like material found inside bones) blood cells are produced.  There are three major types of blood cells; white blood cells, which fight infection; red blood cells, which carry oxygen to and remove waste products from organs and tissues; and platelets, which enable the blood to clot.  Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can effect these cells which put a person at risk for developing infections, anemia and bleeding problems.  Colony-stimulating factors are substances that stimulate the production of blood cells and promote their ability to function.   They do not directly affect tumors but through their role in stimulating blood cells they can be helpful as support of the person’s immune system during cancer treatment.

Epoetin alfa is identical to a substance your body produces naturally called erythropoietin (e-rith-ro-poy-e-tin), a protein normally produced by the kidneys which helps make red blood cells.  Epoetin alfa acts like this natural substance to stimulate red blood cell production.  During chemotherapy, patients may not be able to produce enough red blood cells, a condition known as anemia.  Epoetin alfa can treat anemia by increasing the number of red blood cells in the body.

Hemoglobin is the iron-containing substance in red blood cells that delivers oxygen throughout the body. The normal hemoglobin range is approximately 12 to 18 g/dL, and varies according to age and gender. Doctors may prescribe epoetin alfa to chemotherapy patients whose hemoglobin levels have fallen below normal levels.

Note: We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice. is designed to provide the latest information about chemotherapy to patients and their families, caregivers and friends. For information about the 4th Angel Mentoring Program visit