People with cancer may develop anemia due to cancer treatment, blood loss, or decreased red blood cell production. Without treatment, anemia can cause complications.
Anemia happens when a person has a
This article looks at anemia as a complication of cancer, how doctors diagnose anemia, and the treatment for it.
People with anemia may experience a variety of symptoms,
- pale skin
- shortness of breath
- dizziness or lightheadedness
- swelling of hands and feet
- fast heartbeat
- fast breathing rate
People with cancer may experience anemia for several reasons, including those listed below.
Chronic blood loss
This can occur in gastrointestinal cancers, such as colon, stomach, and rectal cancer, and gynecological cancers, such as uterine and cervical cancer. Blood loss can result in iron deficiency anemia, as iron is a key component of hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in red blood cells.
Bone marrow suppression
Many chemotherapy drugs can suppress bone marrow function, decreasing red blood cell production. This is a common cause of anemia in people who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Some cancers produce inflammatory cytokines that can interfere with red blood cell production. These cytokines can
Some cancers and cancer medications can affect the kidneys’ ability to produce erythropoietin, a hormone that stimulates red blood cell production. When there is not enough erythropoietin in the body, anemia can develop.
Some chemotherapy drugs — specifically pemetrexed (Alimta) — can decrease vitamin B12 levels and cause B12 deficiency anemia. The body
Without treatment, anemia can cause several complications, including:
- Impaired cognitive function: Anemia can affect cognitive function,
leading todifficulties with concentration, memory, and decision making.
- Decreased tolerance to cancer treatments: Anemia may
reducea person’s tolerance to cancer therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This can lead to treatment delays, dose reductions, or discontinuation of treatment, which may mean that the cancer therapy is less effective.
- Impaired wound healing: Anemia can
hinderthe body’s healing ability after surgical procedures, making postsurgery recovery more challenging.
- Dizziness and falls: People with anemia have a
higher riskof experiencing dizziness and lightheadedness, which can lead to falls and injuries, especially in older adults.
Doctors typically use a blood test to diagnose anemia.
A complete blood count measures various components of the blood, including:
- red blood cell count
- hemoglobin level
- hematocrit, which is the proportion of blood composed of red blood cells
- mean corpuscular volume, which measures the size of red blood cells
Learn more about tests to diagnose iron deficiency anemia.
Typically, treatment for anemia involves addressing the underlying cause.
Other possible treatments
- iron supplements
- IV iron infusion
- medications such as erythropoiesis-stimulating agent
- blood transfusions
Read more about medications to treat anemia.
The approach to managing anemia may differ based on the specific type and its severity.
People should rest when possible and prioritize the most important tasks each day.
It is important to choose nutritious foods and make dietary changes if necessary,
- incorporating iron-rich foods such as:
- consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, and bell peppers
- taking supplements if a doctor recommends them
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about anemia and cancer.
What type of cancer causes anemia?
Various types of cancer can cause anemia, primarily
Is anemia always associated with cancer?
People can develop anemia for many reasons, not only due to cancer. Iron deficiency is the
Not everyone who has cancer will develop anemia.
The outlook for someone with cancer-related anemia varies widely. It depends on
Cancer-related anemia is
Some people with cancer develop anemia. This condition can have various causes, such as decreased red blood cell production, blood loss, and some types of cancer treatment.
Treatment for anemia usually involves addressing the underlying cause, but doctors may also recommend iron supplements or infusions. Lifestyle strategies, such as eating iron-rich foods, can help as well.