Anemia & Bleeding

Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy, as well as cancer itself can increase your risk of anemia, bleeding, and bruising.

Anemia is common in people affected by cancer, especially if you’re receiving chemotherapy.

Anemia Overview

When you have a low red blood cell count, you can develop a condition known as anemia. The symptoms can start slowly, so you might not even notice them at first. But they get worse as your red blood cell count decreases.

Understand Anemia

Red blood cells transport oxygen from your lungs to all the cells in your body. But if you have too few of them, you can feel tired, short of breath, or lightheaded.

Know the Signs

There are many signs and symptoms of anemia.

  • Extreme tiredness
  • Fast heart beat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Trouble breathing when walking, climbing stairs, or even talking
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Learn about more symptoms

Learn the Causes

There are many causes of anemia in people with cancer.

  • The cancer itself
  • Radiation or chemotherapy
  • Blood loss
  • Certain vitamins or minerals missing in your diet
  • Low iron levels in your blood
  • Learn more about causes of anemia

Treatments for Anemia

Many people with cancer deal with anemia. It often doesn’t need special treatments, but in some cases treatment is needed.

Blood Transfusions

Transfusions of blood and blood products temporarily replace blood if it’s lost during surgery or due to a serious injury, or if your body can’t make blood properly because of an illness. Most transfusions use blood donated from a stranger. Each year, nearly 5 million Americans receive life-saving blood transfusions. Use these resources to learn more.

Medications

One way to treat anemia is with drugs that tell your body to create more red blood cells. These drugs mimic a hormone made in the kidneys to help your body produce its own new red blood cells. Anemia can also be treated with iron and vitamin supplements. Iron helps the body make hemoglobin for red blood cells. Vitamin B12 and folate also are needed to make red blood cells.

Bleeding, Clotting, and Bruising Problems Overview

Chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and other cancer treatments may cause bleeding and bruising. They may also lower the amount of platelets (which are a component of blood important for clotting) in your blood. When your platelet count is low, you can bruise or bleed more easily. There are steps you can take if you are at increased risk of bleeding and bruising.

Tips for Dealing with Bleeding or Bruising Problems

  • Avoid certain over-the-counter medicines that can increase your risk of bleeding.
  • Brush your teeth gently, with an extra soft toothbrush.
  • Wear shoes, even when you are indoors.
  • Put ice on any bruises you have.
  • If bleeding starts, cover the area with a clean cloth and press down firmly until the bleeding stops.
  • If you notice blood in your stool or on your rectum, tell your doctor. Let them know if you are constipated.
  • Prevent chapped skin and lips with lotion or lip balm.
  • Don’t use a razor. Use an electric shaver instead.
  • Avoid sharp objects.

Lab Tests and Results

Here are a few typical lab tests:

  • Complete blood count is a common lab test done during treatment. It measures red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.
  • Coagulation tests are an important way to check your blood’s ability to clot, which helps reduce bleeding when you get a cut.
  • Blood chemistry tests measure many things like fats, proteins, sugars, electrolytes, and enzymes.
  • Learn more.

Understand Your Results

Keeping track of your lab results helps your doctor take action as soon as your blood counts change. This can help prevent many cancer-related problems and treatment side effects. You might find it helpful to ask for a copy of your lab results and have a member of your health care team go over the numbers with you. Your lab results will show how your numbers compare to numbers within normal ranges.

Get Support

For more detailed information on support options, visit Get Support.

Talk to Your Health Care Team

Your health care team needs to know how you’re doing. Be sure to tell them about any changes you notice.

Talk to Family and Friends

Your loved ones want to support you. They can help with activities like housework, running errands, and getting to appointments. Be as specific as possible about the kind of help you need.

Find Peer Support

Talk About Your Concerns

Peer groups offer a welcoming environment to share your feelings and experiences with people who are going through the same things. Use the American Cancer Society’s Resource Search to find a peer group in your area or call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for personalized assistance.

Visit the Cancer Survivors Network Online

The Cancer Survivors Network is an online community with more than 40 discussion boards where cancer survivors share their cancer-related experiences, support one another, and exchange practical tips.

NCI Cancer Information Service

Call

Speak to a National Cancer Institute health information specialist by calling 1-800-4-Cancer.

Chat

The National Cancer Institute offers live, online assistance through its LiveHelp service.

ACS National Cancer Information Center

Get Tips

Get information and tips from a cancer information specialist at the American Cancer Society by calling 1-800-227-2345. Lines are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Chat

The American Cancer Society offers live, online assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Select the Live Chat option from any page on cancer.org.

Learn More About Anemia and Bleeding

The National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society have additional resources to help you, including: