Anemia – What Should I Do?

There are many causes of LOW red blood cells and LOW hemoglobin that are given the name anemia.  Hemoglobin is the part of the red blood cell (RBC) that carries oxygen to all the cells in your body. Anemia is a common side effect in people with cancer, technically called “Anemia of Chronic Disease”.

There are many different reasons a person with cancer might have a low red blood cell count (anemia). Some common causes are:

  • The cancer itself is “gobbling up” iron
  • Cancer treatment, such as radiation or chemotherapy is damaging RBCs
  • Blood loss (this can be bleeding from a tumor, bleeding from cancer cells getting into blood vessels, or bleeding caused by other conditions like heavy menstruation or bleeding from a stomach ulcer)
  • Deficiencies certain vitamins or minerals in the diet, usually due to drug interactions.
  • Dietary deficiencies due to cachexia, inability to eat, or vomiting
  • Major organ problems (including severe heart, lung, kidney, or liver disease)
  • A combination of any of these factors

Some risk factors may make a person with cancer more likely to have anemia. These include:

  • Certain chemotherapy drugs such as platinum-based chemotherapy (this is a certain group of chemo drugs)
  • Certain tumor types (such as lung or ovary tumors)
  • Having a low hemoglobin level before you had cancer

Clinical Pearls:

  • Do NOT use any Iron Supplementation if you have elevated Ferritin levels!
  • Cancer patients might consider adding Artemisinin if they need to take Iron Supplementation
  • ALWAYS investigate WHY you have an anemic condition!