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Anemia and Cancer

What Is Anemia?

Anemia is a common blood disorder. It occurs when you do not have enough red blood cells. These cells carry oxygen throughout the body. Anemia can be caused by a variety of conditions, including:

  • inherited diseases, such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia
  • low levels of iron, vitamin B12, and folate
  • autoimmune disorders that interfere with the production of red blood cells

Anemia and Cancer

Anemia is a very common problem for people with cancer. It can develop under the following circumstances:

  • Chemotherapy can cause anemia. Some drugs block the production of red blood cells in bone marrow. Others may hurt the kidneys’ ability to produce erythropoietin. This is a hormone that helps bone marrow make red blood cells.
  • High-dose radiation therapy can damage bone marrow. This can cause anemia.
  • Surgery to remove tumors in areas of the body that contain large blood vessels can result in excessive blood loss.
  • Some people already have a condition that can increase their risk of developing anemia during cancer treatment. Tell your doctor if you have any known conditions that cause anemia. Also let your doctor know if you feel especially weak or tired before you begin cancer treatment.

Anemia Treatments

Hematologists at MSK will test your blood for any signs of anemia. If necessary, we adjust your care plan before you start cancer treatment. During your treatment, our team may perform more blood tests to check for any signs of anemia.

In many cases, anemia can be controlled with blood transfusions. These transfusions replace red blood cells in your blood. Your doctor may recommend eating foods that are rich in iron or folic acid throughout your treatment and recovery, both in the hospital and at home.