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Anemia as a Side Effect of Cancer Treatments

Anemia is a common complication of advanced progressive cancer, and, in this circumstance, a specific correctable cause of the anemia may not be identified. To manage the anemia in these cases, recurrent blood transfusions may be necessary.

The term anemia stems from a similarly spelled ancient Greek term that means “lack of blood.” When you have anemia, you either don’t have enough red blood cells or don’t have enough hemoglobin (the oxygen-carrying pigment of red blood cells) in your blood to adequately carry oxygen to the cells throughout your body.

Symptoms of anemia may include fatigue, weakness, dizziness, shortness of breath, an unusually rapid heartbeat, pallor (paleness), leg cramps, difficulty concentrating, and insomnia. If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to mention them to your oncologist.

Anemia has numerous causes, including current or past uncorrected bleeding; inadequate nutrition; excessive alcohol intake; cancer affecting the bone marrow, which is where the red blood cells are produced; and suppression of bone marrow function by chemotherapy.

How your anemia is treated depends on its cause. If it’s caused by blood loss, you may need to undergo surgery to correct the bleeding; if it’s caused by nutritional deficiencies, you may need to correcting these deficits with supplements or infusion. In certain situations, drugs that are known to stimulate red blood cell production may be prescribed.

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