Cells and tissues throughout the body use oxygen as fuel. This oxygen is delivered by red blood cells.
Anemia occurs when a patient has a low red blood cell count. Because the body isn’t getting all the oxygen it needs, the patient is left feeling weak and fatigued. Other symptoms include
- a pale complexion
- shortness of breath
- chest pain and headaches.
Doctors diagnose anemia by evaluating a patient for these symptoms along with blood tests.
What causes anemia in cancer patients?
Anemia is a common condition of cancer patients. This is because cancers cause inflammation that decrease red blood cell production. In addition, many chemotherapies are myelosuppresive, meaning they slow down the production of new blood cells by the bone marrow.
In other cases, anemia is caused by kidney disease. The kidneys produce a hormone that spurs the bone marrow to make red blood cells. If a patient has kidney cancer or if the kidney is impacted by cancer treatment, he or she could develop anemia.
Anemia can also be caused by the loss of blood cells due to bleeding.
How is anemia treated?
No matter the cause, there are two main treatments for anemia.
Patients can receive a blood transfusion to increase their red blood cell count. This is done only as needed.
Alternatively or additionally, patients can be put on medications called erythropoiesis stimulating agents. These stimulate the body’s production of red blood cells. These medication are only administered to patients who are on chemotherapy that is intended to prolong survival and improve quality of life, not cure the disease. In addition, these patients must be scheduled for at least two more rounds of this chemotherapy.