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Cancer Center

Cancer Treatment - Anemia and Chemotherapy

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy and the amount given. Anticipating and managing side effects can help to minimize them and provide the best possible experience for the person receiving chemotherapy.

Anemia and chemotherapy:

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his/her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team any/all possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Red blood cells (RBCs) carry oxygen to other cells throughout your body. Chemotherapy can damage your body’s ability to make RBCs, so body tissues do not get enough oxygen, a condition called anemia. People who have anemia may feel short of breath, very weak or tired, dizzy, faint, or short of breath, or may feel that their hearts are beating very fast. Consult your physician immediately if you experience any of these symptoms.

You will be given frequent tests to measure your hemoglobin and hematocrit during your therapy. If these measurements are low, you may be given a medication that can boost the growth of your red blood cells. If your blood is too low in red blood cells, you may need a blood transfusion or a medication called erythropoietin (also called EPO) to raise the number of red blood cells in your body.

What can I do if I am anemic?

Consider the following strategies to help manage anemia and fatigue:

  • Plan time to rest during the day.
  • Take short naps or breaks.
  • Limit your activities to those that are most important.
  • Try easier or shorter versions of activities you enjoy.
  • Take short walks or do light exercise, if possible.
  • Consider activities such as meditation, prayer, yoga, guided imagery, or visualization.
  • Eat as well as you can in small amounts at a time. Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Join a support group. Your physician can help you find a support group in your area.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol.
  • Ask for help with daily responsibilities.
  • Talk to your physician regarding ways to conserve your energy and reduce fatigue.
  • Report any changes in energy level to your physician.

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