Cancer treatments are targeted to destroy fast growing cancer cells. However, cancer treatments also harm healthy cells, especially cells that divide quickly. These include cells in the hair, blood, bone marrow, and reproductive organs.
Bone marrow is a soft, spongy material inside the long bones that produce red blood cells. Red blood cells are the cells that carry oxygen to all other cells in the body. Since they only live for about 120 days, red blood cells are constantly being regenerated. Chemotherapy and radiation can impair the bone marrow's ability to produce red blood cells. When there are too few red cells circulating in the blood, the body does not receive enough oxygen. If the body is deprived of oxygen, symptoms of fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath can develop. This condition is called anemia.
Anemia is diagnosed with a simple blood test. If it is determined that you have chemotherapy-induced anemia, medicines such as erythropoietin are available. Erythropoietin, or EPO, is a naturally occurring hormone that is produced by the kidneys. EPO stimulates the body to produce red blood cells. A synthetic form of erythropoietin is available to treat anemia. If the red cell count gets too low, a blood transfusion may be necessary.
This medical animation illustrates how chemotherapy can affect the production of red blood cells. Learn about the common symptoms of anemia, like fatigue and shortness of breath, which can result, as well as treatment options.