Anemia in Cancer Patients


Anemia literally means lack of blood. It actually designates a condition in which body lacks healthy red blood cells. In human body, red blood cells are developed in bone marrow. Principle function of red blood cells is to carry oxygen to body tissues; so red blood cells are the ones who keep our body cells oxygenated, alive, and healthy. Hemoglobin is the main component of red blood cells. It binds with the oxygen and helps in transferring the oxygen to body cells. Hemoglobhn is an iron-containing molecule which is responsible for red color of our blood. Normal hemoglobin level varies from 12 g/dL to 15 g/dL.

Anemia can occur due to several reasons. In cancer patients, anemia is a common condition. In most of the cases cancer itself causes anemia. If the cancer affected regions include liver, lung, bone marrow, heart, kidney etc then red blood cell production is decreased severely causing anemia. If the patient is having tumor or ulcer in the internal body organs such as intestine, bladder, or stomach etc then severe bleeding can occur which can in turn cause anemia. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy can also be responsible for anemia in cancer affected patients. Though radiotherapy regions do not include organs like liver but if the radiotherapy is being delivered to any adjacent body structure then liver functionality can be affected causing anemia. Same thing happens if radiotherapy is delivered in the spinal region.

Most dominant symptoms of anemia are shortness of breath, severe tiredness, dizziness and swelling of hands and feet, as well as chest pain.

Techniques that helps

- Blood transfusion: Blood transfusion is the emergency method of treating anemia. Blood transfusion is a process in which blood components such as red blood cells, white blood cells, plasma etc is transfused intravenously into the circulatory system of patient body. Blood transfusion is used only in case of severe anemia when the blood hemoglobin level is less than 8 g/dL. Blood transfusion can give relief quickly than any medication or supplement but it also has a few risks involved such as lung injury, transfusion reaction and congestive heart failure. If the blood is transfused too quickly before the heart can handle it can lead to congestive heart failure. Transfusion reaction occurs when body immunity system rejects foreign blood cells. It is almost like an allergic reaction.

Supportive Supplements and herbs

- Folic Acid: Folic acid is essential to generate healthy red blood cells in people of all ages. Folic acid is available as a supplement. There are natural sources rich in folic acid such as spinach, beans, peas, egg yolk, Baker's yeast, and fish liver oil.

- Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 is needed in every single cell for normal cellular function, deficiency of which can lead to anemia which is called pernicious anemia and it is basically an autoimmune disease. Pernicious anemia is commonly seen in people with gastric cancer. It can be treated orally with B12 supplement. Usually such a high dose of vitamin B12 is given orally the amount absorbed in intestine through passive diffusion is enough for body functionality.

- Vitamin A: Other than the above two components, excessive vitamin A intake can lead to cancer. It can be clinically determined with associated symptoms such as insomnia, diarrhea etc but for proper diagnosis blood test is necessary.

- Vitamin B6: According to Journal of American Medical Association vitamin B6 itself can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. Vitamin B6 is an essential component for producing hemoglobin inside the body. Vitamin B6 enhances oxygen binding of hemoglobin. So vitamin B6 deficiency can lead to severe anemia. Natural sources include whole grain foods, bananas, and meat.

- Vitamin C: Vitamin C enhances iron absorption in body. Deficiency of vitamin C can lead to hemolytic anemia in which red blood cells break down abnormally. Natural sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits like lemon, orange as well as papaya, strawberry, guava, and green chili pepper etc.

- Iron: Iron is the main component of hemoglobin. Deficiency of iron can result in impaired red blood cells formation successively resulting in anemia. Iron supplement can be taken orally as tablet, capsule, or syrup. Natural sources include red meat, poultry, leafy vegetables etc. Marsh barbel is also an efficient dietary supplement for iron deficiency but unfortunately it is available in the Indian continent only.

- Copper: Copper is an essential trace element which means it is needed in a very small amount but its absence can lead to severe disorders. Copper is concerned with formation of hemoglobin from iron. Copper deficiency can lead to less iron absorption leading to anemia. Natural sources of copper include sea foods, animal liver, whole grain, and chocolate etc.

- Blackstrap molasses: Blackstrap molasses, also known as blackstrap is the remaining raw sugar cane after maximum extraction of sugar. It is rich in vitamin B6, iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. One tablespoon a day of blackstrap can provide almost one fifth of daily dose of those nutrients in the body. For these reasons it is also known as pregnancy tea.

- Spirulina: Spirulina is a well-known nutritional supplement. It is made from two species of cyanobacteria. It is proved to be beneficial in treating anemia, liver toxicity, as well as cancer. Spirulina contains essential amino acids, vitamin B12, and beneficial lipids like DHA. It is well available in tablet, flake, or power form worldwide.

- Alfalfa: Alfalfa is a flowering plant found worldwide. It has been known to doctors for more than 1500 years. Alfalfa is high in vitamins like vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E as well as protein and calcium. It helps in treating anemia.

- Gentian: Gentiana lutea mostly known as bitter root is mainly found in central and southern Europe. It is a herb that is effective in digestive system disorder. It does not contain nutrients that directly help in anemia but as it is effective in digestive system, it helps in absorption of iron, vitamin B12 etc in human body. It also helps to prevent heavy bleeding.