It is common knowledge that androgens play a role in the production of red blood cells. The lack of androgens cause the hematocrit (proportion of blood volume that is occupied by red blood cells) level to fall in most men with prostate cancer who are on a hormone blockade. About 10% of men on a blockade will experience a decline of as much as 25% in their hematocrit level.

A low hematocrit level, or anemia, is a source of significant concern for men receiving chemotherapy. Anemia is a common side effect of the chemotherapy drugs, so when you couple the results of the lowered hematocrit from the hormone blockade with the chemotherapy you potentially have a life-threatening complication.

Low red blood cell levels starve the body of oxygen. Common symptoms of anemia include tiredness, weakness, shortness of breath, dizziness, decreased ability to concentrate, chest pain and sleeplessness.

Procrit is effective in combating anemia. It is designed to stimulate bone marrow red blood cell production to counter the effects of the anemia. Procrit has successfully minimized the need for blood transfusions.

Procrit does carry some of its own risks. If you have uncontrolled high blood pressure you might not be a candidate to take it. High blood pressure in men without a history of the problem has also been noted. If you are taking Procrit you should diligently monitor your blood pressure.

Procrit has also increases the risk of blood clots.

The most common, but more benign side effects included fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, edema, shortness of breath, tingling and upper respiratory infection.

Joel T Nowak, MA, MSW