Anemia and cancer have a complicated relationship. On one hand, anemia can be an early indicator of cancer, while on the other hand, cancer treatments can cause anemia. This complex link between anemia and cancer is important to understand in order to diagnose and treat both conditions effectively. Let’s take a closer look at how anemia and cancer are connected.
Cancer Can Cause Anemia
One way that anemia and cancer are linked is that some types of cancer can cause anemia as a result of their treatments. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplantation all have the potential to reduce red blood cells below healthy levels. This decrease in red blood cells results in lower hemoglobin levels, which leads to anemia. It is important to recognize this type of anemia because it can be managed with medications or lifestyle changes, such as dietary modifications or exercise.
Anemia Can Be a Sign of Cancer
In some cases, low hemoglobin levels can be a sign of underlying cancers, such as leukemia or multiple myeloma. If you have unexplained symptoms like fatigue or shortness of breath that do not improve with rest or medications, your doctor may order additional tests, such as a complete blood count (CBC), medical imaging, or biopsy to rule out any underlying health issues. In some cases, these tests can even detect certain types of cancers before they develop into tumors that may require treatment.
Anemia as a Risk Factor for Cancer
In addition to being a symptom, there has also been some research suggesting that anemia may actually increase one’s risk of developing certain types of cancer. For example, studies1 have found that people with iron deficiency anemia (IDA) may be more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those without IDA.
How Anemia Affects Cancer Patients
Anemia can have a major impact on cancer patients. The condition, which is characterized by a lack of healthy red blood cells, contributes to greater fatigue and an increased risk of complications during treatment. Lower oxygen levels due to anemia can strain the heart and disrupt metabolic processes, or the way in which the body produces energy.
In addition, anemia can interfere with recovery from cancer surgery and other treatments, as it disturbs formation of new blood cells and leads to slower healing. While there are several medications used to treat anemia associated with cancer, lifestyle modifications such as eating a balanced diet and avoiding caffeine or alcohol can also help reduce symptoms.
How to Treat Anemia and Cancer
Anemia and cancer can seem like two very different conditions; however they are often treated with many of the same methods. Eating a balanced diet filled with fruits and vegetables is the mainstay for both anemia and cancer treatment. Iron-rich foods, such as lean red meats or leafy greens are recommended for helping to treat anemia, while regular physical activity can also be beneficial.
Cancer treatments may also focus on diet modification, although depending on what type of cancer it is could dictate specific changes or restrictions in their food intake. Additionally, therapeutic options such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may also be used to fight cancers. Both anemia and cancer require careful monitoring by your physician in order to evaluate your progress with prescribed treatments.
The link between anemia and cancer is complex but understanding it is key for effective diagnosis and treatment for both conditions. While certain types of cancer treatments can reduce red blood cells leading to anemic symptoms, low hemoglobin levels could also indicate underlying cancers like leukemia or multiple myeloma before they become severe enough to require treatment. Knowing the connection between these two health issues will help you take steps towards early detection and better management of both conditions if needed.
Monitor Your Hemoglobin Trends with AnemoCheck!
In order to get the most benefit from treatment plans, it is most important for individuals diagnosed with cancer to pay attention to their overall health and address any signs of anemia promptly.
While AnemoCheck should not be used to diagnose, cure, or replace trips to the doctor, you can use our app to monitor your hemoglobin trends and immediately notice any significant changes.
Hung, N., Shen, C. C., Hu, Y. W., Hu, L. Y., Yeh, C. M., Teng, C. J., Kuan, A. S., Chen, S. C., Chen, T. J., & Liu, C. J. (2015). Risk of cancer in patients with iron deficiency anemia: a nationwide population-based study. PloS one, 10(3), e0119647. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0119647