Chemotherapy-Induced anaemia: Symptoms and treatment

Chemotherapy may cause anaemia, which is a common side effect that is not often spoken about. One study found that 89.5% of people with solid tumours receiving chemotherapy experienced some degree of anaemia. Thankfully, the vast majority of these people suffered only mild to moderate anaemia. 

Anaemia is when your body has not enough red blood cells. This takes place when chemotherapy damages your bone marrow, where red blood cells are made. Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue found inside your larger bones, whilst red blood cells contain a protein called haemoglobin, which carries oxygen around the body. If you do not have enough red blood cells your body doesn't have enough oxygen or haemoglobin, resulting in fatigue and shortness of breath.  

Chemotherapy may also damage your kidneys. Your kidneys play a huge role in creating red blood cells. Kidneys create a hormone called erythropoietin, which tells your body when to make more red blood cells. Damage from the bone marrow and kidneys usually does not last and anaemia often improves a few months after chemotherapy ends. 

Symptoms to look out For

  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Depression
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Rapid Heart Rate 
  • Lightheadedness or Dizziness
  • Poor Concentration
  • Loss of Appetite 
  • Skin that looks paler than usual
  • Headaches
  • Fainting 

If you experience any of these symptoms above, speak to your cancer team. It may not be anaemia but knowing can help you get the right treatment and is relatively easy to diagnose with a complete blood count.

Treatment 

Iron and other supplements

Your doctor may give you a prescription for an iron supplement, folic acid (vitamin B9) or vitamin B12) or you may be told to eat more high iron foods like red meats, enriched grains and cereals.

Blood Transfusions 

The transfusion increases the number of red blood cells in your blood. This means that more oxygen can be carried around your body to your tissues and organs. This will increase your energy levels and reduce breathlessness.

Erythropoietin Stimulating Agents 

A medical professional can administer erythropoietin stimulating agents as a shot under your skin. They’re synthetic versions of the hormone erythropoietin produced by your kidneys. This hormone stimulates the production of red blood cells.

 

Although symptoms do go away after treatment has finished, they can last for a few weeks. Try these simple tips below

  • Resting and only doing activities you can handle.
  • Staying hydrated.
  • Eating a balanced diet with lots of protein and iron-rich foods.
  • Keeping a journal of your symptoms, to help keep your cancer care team updated.
  • Planning activities for when you have the most energy.