Cancer Center New Mexico

Anemia is a fairly common side effect of cancer therapy.

ANEMIA Red Blood Cells:

There are three main types of cells in your blood: white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which carries oxygen to the tissues in the body. Oxygen is needed to produce energy. Lowered red blood cell counts may be caused by the cancer, by the chemotherapy, and/or radiation treatments (which can affect the bone marrow, where the red blood cells are made). When there are not enough red blood cells or hemoglobin, this is called ANEMIA.

To confirm if you are anemic, a blood sample will be taken to measure the amount of hemoglobin in the red blood cells. A low hemoglobin count will indicate anemia. Normally, the hemoglobin count will be 120g/L or higher, but it may drop as low as 80g/L to 100g/L without serious harm during chemotherapy.

Signs of anemia, which might occur if your red blood cells are low, include:

  • Feeling tired or weak. (Most common)
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded. Possibly, a headache.
  • Mental confusion
  • Trouble breathing, shortness of breath.
  • Pale skin colour.
  • Pain in your chest, and/or rapid heartbeat.
  • Ringing or pounding in your ears.
  • Sensitivity to cold temperatures.
  • Sore mouth or tongue.

What should you do if you notice any of these symptoms:

If you have some of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor or nurse as soon as possible. You may need to have your hemoglobin level checked. You may need a transfusion of red blood cells or you may need medications that help rebuild the supply of red blood cells to correct the anemia.

Prepared by the Hamilton Regional Cancer Centre- Patient Education Committee, in cooperation with the staff and patients at HRCC and other Cancer Centres; Revised by the Cancer Care Ontario-Professional Pharmacy Advisory Committee- Medication Information Sheets Working Group. Any comments about the contents of this sheet, please email