Anemia is common in patients with cancer. Anemia is defined by a reduced amount of red blood cell volume and a decline in hemoglobin, the part of blood that carries oxygen to the body's tissues. It is often associated with fatigue that may be debilitating.
Anemia can occur for several reasons. The most common cause is a decrease in production of new red blood cells by the bone marrow. Many of the cancer chemotherapy drugs significantly depress red blood cell formation. Local radiation therapy is less damaging but can still cause anemia. Other causes of anemia include bleeding related to the tumor itself and insufficient intake of iron and other nutrients because of poor appetite.
About three in four cancer patients will experience fatigue. Anemia may be a significant factor, and correcting the anemia results in an improved sense of well-being. Most people worry that if they ever develop cancer, pain will be the worst part. But for many cancer patients, the fatigue is even more disabling. Treatment of anemia related to cancer includes vitamins, iron, erythropoietin injections (a medication to stimulate the bone marrow to make more red blood cells) and blood transfusions. Also, there are things you can do to reduce fatigue during cancer treatments:
- Exercise lightly, including short walks.
- Rather than having three large meals a day, eat snacks and smaller meals throughout the day.
- Schedule activities for the time of day when your energy is usually at its peak.
- Always leave time for a short nap or rest between activities.