But a new study reveals the hormone can increase the chances of blood clotting and endangering the life of the patient. The researchers couldn't find any benefits to using the drug; it didn't increase life expectancy, and the patient stayed in hospital for the same length of time as another patient who wasn't given the drug.
The drug has been approved to treat anaemic patients on dialysis, or who have had major surgery, or are having chemotherapy for cancer.
But it's increasingly being used 'off-label' - which means it's being used on patients for whom regulatory approval has not been given - and is being widely given to any patient who is critically ill.
This widening of use has mainly come about because of a cash inducement scheme, where doctors are paid for any 'off-label' prescribing, and by marketing directly to patients, who are then asking their doctors for it.
The new study is based on a meta-analysis of nine trials into the drug.
(Source: Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2007; 177: 697).