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Erythropoietin (Epo) stimulates red blood cell production by docking with its cognate receptor on the erythroid progenitor cell and triggering an array of signaling pathways that inhibit apoptosis and promote cell proliferation and differentiation. In its pharmaceutical forms, epoetin and darbepoetin, Epo is widely used to treat various anemias, including those associated with cancer. The Epo receptor is also expressed by nonhematopoietic cells, including cancer cells, and Epo exhibits a "tissue-protective" effect on nonhematopoietic tissues, possibly mediated through a novel heteroreceptor, blocking apoptosis induced by a variety of insults. The unexpected results of several clinical studies in which Epo was used to treat cancer patients have now raised the question of a potential direct growth-promoting action of Epo on cancer cells.