Goal 2: Reduce Human Disease

Evidence based approaches to Red Blood Cell transfusion

What are the optimal RBC transfusion thresholds for adult and pediatric cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy regimens that may improve functional status and quality of life?

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Is this idea a Compelling Question (CQ) or Critical Challenge (CC)? : Compelling Question (CQ)

Details on the impact of addressing this CQ or CC :

Cancer patients undergo intensive medical and surgical therapies to treat their underlying disease. Treatment commonly results in anemia requiring RBC and platelet transfusions to support the patient through the hypoproliferative phase of chemotherapy. This is particularly true for those patients requiring hematopoetic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). Following therapy, cancer outpatients commonly receive RBC transfusions for weeks to months to maintain their functional status.


Common causes of death in patients with hematological malignancies and other cancers are infections and bleeding. A meta-analysis of clinical trials suggested that liberal transfusion is associated with greater risk of infection. Conversely, restrictive transfusion could adversely affect quality of life and functional status in oncology populations. In addition, pre-clinical and clinical studies support that concomitant anemia and thrombocytopenia significantly compound bleeding risk, and that hemostasis can be optimized in thrombocytopenia by maintaining a higher hematocrit. Although bleeding risks in relation to platelet transfusion thresholds are well studied in patients with hematological malignancy, optimal hemoglobin levels in thrombocytopenic patients are not known. Despite the significant allocation of blood components to cancer patients as a whole, RBC transfusion practices are not well studied within this group.

Feasibility and challenges of addressing this CQ or CC :

Randomized controlled clinical trials and other studies investigating optimal transfusion thresholds and other measures of practice are required to provide health care providers with evidence to guide one of the most common therapies administered in the setting of malignancy. The clinically important end points of well-designed studies could include: 1) quality of life and functional status for both inpatients and outpatients; 2) neurocognitive development in pediatric populations; 3) bleeding events / bleeding scores; 4) impact on immunity including immunomodulation and infection; 5) reconstitution of hematopoiesis; and 6) survival and/or recurrence of disease.. Besides a generalizable study population, certain target populations of interest are those with high risk disease, HSCT patients, patients undergoing radiation therapy, and pediatric patients.


There are >1.6 million new cases of cancer annually in the USA, including >50,000 with leukemia and >6,000 with HSCT. Cancer therapies are rapidly advancing in the era of genomics and immunotherapy. Capitalizing on the tradition of research in cancer, single and multicenter studies of RBC transfusion are feasible using randomized controlled designs in conjunction with clinical trials of chemotherapeutic regimens. The results of these studies will impact a large patient population’s quality of life, and may ultimately impact healthcare cost and blood demand.

Name of idea submitter and other team members who worked on this idea : Nareg Roubinian, MD and Naomi Luban, MD for the 2015 NHLBI State of the Science in Transfusion Medicine


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18 down votes
Idea No. 459