Understanding Chemotherapy Induced Anemia
As if having cancer wasn’t challenging enough on its own, the treatments for cancer often cause an entirely new set of symptoms as side effects.
For example, there is a strong connection between chemotherapy and anemia, and this type of anemia has distinct differences from other forms of the disorder. Many cancer patients develop anemia even when they’ve had healthy iron levels earlier in life.
This article will answer the question of “Can chemotherapy cause anemia?” and discuss the condition known as chemotherapy induced anemia. It will also describe how chemotherapy anemia occurs, the symptoms of chemotherapy induced anemia, recommended treatment options.
Common Chemotherapy Side Effects
Chemotherapy medications are designed to kill cells that grow quickly and target fast-growing cancer cells in the body. However, the medication cannot always distinguish between healthy and unhealthy cells, which is why side effects often occur with this cancer treatment.
The most common chemotherapy side effects include hair loss, fatigue, easy bleeding and bruising, nausea, and vomiting. Low red blood cell counts and iron deficiency anemia are other common side effects, and studies have shown that approximately 30 to 90 percent of cancer patients have anemia. While undergoing chemotherapy, a patient may also experience weight changes, mood changes, fertility problems, and appetite changes too.
Causes of Chemotherapy Anemia
People who are receiving chemotherapy treatment often see a reduction in healthy blood cells, which prevents normal transfer of oxygen to the various cells in the body. Platinum-based chemotherapy is more closely connected to the development of anemia than other types. Also, certain types of tumors, such as tumors of the ovaries or lungs, are more likely to lead to anemia. Finally, individuals who had low hemoglobin levels before they developed cancer are at a greater risk of chemotherapy induced anemia as well.
Symptoms of Chemotherapy Induced Anemia
The symptoms of chemotherapy induced anemia may include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, dizziness, a fast heartbeat, and selling in the hands and feet. Walking and other activities may feel more exhausting, and the skin may take on a pale appearance as well. It is important to report any of these symptoms to an oncologist to determine whether a change in treatment plan is necessary.
Chemotherapy Induced Anemia Treatment Guidelines
Chemotherapy may be a patient’s best chance of beating cancer, so it isn’t necessarily recommended to stop chemotherapy treatments to treat a subsequent condition of anemia. The goals of anemia treatment in cancer patients is to treat the cause of the condition and also raise the hemoglobin level to alleviate symptoms.
Depending on how severe the anemia is, oncologists may recommend taking iron supplements like Fergon, eating more iron-rich foods, or having red blood cell transfusions. Red blood cell transfusions are a common way to treat anemia in people who have cancer, but this is typically only recommended for patients who have a hemoglobin level of less than 8 g/dL. This is the standard for moderate anemia, and life-threatening anemia is defined as having a hemoglobin level of less than 6.5 g/dL.
There are also medications that can treat anemia in cancer patients, but compared to transfusions, they take longer to have an effect. IV infusions of iron may be recommended, as well as erythropoietin hormone drugs to encourage the body to start making its own healthy new red blood cells. Fortunately, anemia is oven treatable for cancer patients, even alongside ongoing chemotherapy treatments.
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