There is a close link between anemia and cancer. Sometimes anemia is caused due to side effects of cancer treatments. In some cases, cancer itself is caused due to anemia.
Overview of Anemia
Anemia is a condition caused due to lack of red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen to all the parts of the body. Mild anemia doesn’t affect much, but moderate can cause fatigue and headache. Severe anemia can even be life threatening. There are many causes responsible for anemia which can be or can’t be related to cancer. Most of the times, anemia is caused due to iron or vitamin deficiency, which can be treated by proving supplements to the body. The other serious types of anemia are caused due to chronic disease or autoimmune hemolytic anemia.
Symptoms of Anemia
Whether mild or serious, don’t ignore the symptoms of anemia as it can seriously affect your body. Some of the symptoms are very serious such as organ damage or heart failure. Autoimmune hemolytic anemia can even cause Jaundice. Here is the list of symptoms of anemia.
- Fast Heart Beat
- Having trouble breathing when you have exertion
- Chest Pain
If you have any of these symptoms, consult your doctor and perform the test. When there is a treatment for cancer, then your Doctor will check the red blood cells count or hemoglobin. A normal level in women is 12 g/DL and in men is 15 g/DL. If the level is below normal level then, the doctor will perform the blood tests and identify the cause of the problem.
Causes of Anemia Related to Cancer
Anemia and cancer are connected to each other. In fact, the cause of anemia is due to the treatment of cancer or due to cancer itself. Here are the causes which are related to cancer.
Bone Marrow Replacement – Some cancers, such as lymphomas or metastases from breast cancer enter the bone marrow and replace the bone marrow cells which form red blood cells. This results in a low count of red blood cells in the body.
Chemotherapy – It is the common cause of anemia and mainly occurs due to drugs used to treat cancer. Chemotherapy attacks all the rapidly growing cells including the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Thus as a preventive measure, count the red blood cells before chemotherapy and if they are low then delay it.
Hemolytic Anemia – Autoimmune hemolytic anemia causes the destruction of red blood cells. The average life span of red blood cell is 120 days and after that, they are recycled to make new ones. If the red blood cells are broken down at the faster rate than this, it results in hemolysis or autoimmune hemolytic anemia. This can occur in people having lymphomas cancer. There are drugs including some antibiotics which can lead to drug-induced hemolytic anemia as well.
Cytokines – High level of cytokines related to cancer can slow down the production of red blood cells by the bone marrow. Due to lack of these red blood cells, anemic conditions prevail.
Changes in the Diets – Cancer causes the loss of appetite which can result in nutritional deficiencies related to vitamins or others causing anemia. Chemotherapy not only affects the bone marrow but can cause symptoms such as mouth sores, loss of appetite, taste changes, etc which can lead to anemic conditions.
Anemia as a Sign of Cancer
Iron deficiencies are early signs of cancer. In fact, anemia provides the strong signal to have a Colon cancer. Bleeding is a primary cause of anemia in colon cancer. This is because tumors release chemicals resulting in the formation of new blood vessels. When they grow, the blood vessels burst which results in the loss of red blood cells. It can also lead to iron deficiencies. These all are responsible for causing anemia.
Diagnosis of Anemia
It is important to diagnose the anemia in early stages to prevent the serious problems. Here are some of the tests to diagnose it.
Red Blood Cell Count – Normal blood cell count is 4.32- 5.72 trillion/L in men and 3.90- 5.03 trillion/L in women.
Hemoglobin level – Normal hemoglobin in men is 13.5 gms/100 ml and in women 12 gms/100 ml. Treat properly if it is less than this level.
Hematocrit – Normal hematocrit is 42 to 54% in men and 38- 46% in women.
Other than these, there are some other lab tests as well such as MCV, RDW and MCHC for diagnosis.
By detecting the cause of anemia, start a proper treatment for it in consultation with the doctor. It may be iron supplements or blood transfusions or steroids in case of hemolytic anemia. It is difficult to cope up with anemia but proper preventive measures at the right time can help to cure and avoid serious problems.