Medical Oncology

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 23–36

The diagnostic plot

A concept for identifying different states of iron deficiency and monitoring the response to epoetin therapy
  • Christian Thomas
  • Andreas Kirschbaum
  • Dieter Boehm
  • Lothar Thomas

DOI: 10.1385/MO:23:1:23

Cite this article as:
Thomas, C., Kirschbaum, A., Boehm, D. et al. Med Oncol (2006) 23: 23. doi:10.1385/MO:23:1:23


Iron balance is regulated by the rate of erythropoiesis and the size of the iron stores. Anemia that accompanies infection, inflammation, and cancer (anemia of chronic disease) features normal or increased iron stores, although patients may have functional iron deficiency, namely, an imbalance between iron requirements of the erythroid marrow and the actual supply. The proportion of hypochromic red cells and the hemoglobin content of reticulocytes are direct indicators of functional iron deficiency. Biochemical markers, especially the soluble transferrin receptor/log ferritin ratio (ferritin index), are useful indicators of the iron supply to erythropoiesis. The relationship between functional iron deficiency (reticulocyte hemoglobin content) and iron supply to erythropoiesis (ferritin index) can be described in a diagnostic plot. In normoproliferative and hypoproliferative erythropoiesis, the plot allows the differentiation of classic iron deficiency from anemia of chronic disease and the combined state of functional iron deficiency with anemia of chronic disease. The therapeutic implications of the plot are to differentiate patients into those who should be administered iron supplements, epoetin, or a combination of epoetin and iron. In patients receiving epoetin therapy, the plot is an important tool for monitoring erythropoietic activity, functional iron deficiency, and adequate iron stores for new red cell production. Enhanced erythropoiesis is reflected quantitatively by the ferritin index vector. A transgression of the 1.5 (3.2) cut-off value for the ferritin index indicates that extra doses of iron need to be administered to increase the body's iron stores. A lack of increase or a reticulocyte hemoglobin content below 28 picograms indicates functional iron deficiency. The diagnostic plot is a model for differentiating iron-deficient states and predicting those patients who will respond to epoetin therapy.

Key Words

Iron deficiency anemia of chronic disease soluble transferrin receptor ferritin index diagnostic plot epoetin therapy 

Copyright information

© Humana Press Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christian Thomas
    • 1
  • Andreas Kirschbaum
    • 2
  • Dieter Boehm
    • 3
  • Lothar Thomas
    • 4
  1. 1.Urologische Klinik und Poliklinik der Universität MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Klinik und Poliklinik für Herz- und Thoraxchirurgie Universitätsklanik WürzburgWürzburgGermany
  3. 3.Klinik für Operative Intensivmedizin KrankenhausFrankfurtGermany
  4. 4.Krankenhaus Nordwest, LaboratoriumsmedizinFrankfurtGermany

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