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Cancer Treatment


Posted: August 4, 2021



Chemotherapy, a medication used to attack and kill malignant cancer cells, is an effective method to treat cancer. However, these drugs are very powerful and usually cause some undesirable side effects, including nausea, vomiting, hair loss, fatigue, low blood counts, and sore throat & mouth. These side effects do not occur all at once and can appear in varying degrees at different times within the treatment cycles. Here is some helpful information regarding anemia following your chemotherapy treatment at Cancer Care Northwest.


What are low red blood counts?

At the same time chemotherapy drugs are fighting cancer cells, they can destroy normal cells as well. Red blood cells (RBC’s) carry oxygen in the blood to all parts of your body. Inside the red blood cell is a protein called hemoglobin. If you have a low number of total red blood cells or a low hemoglobin count, you may experience a condition called anemia. Anemia can make you tired, short of breath, or dizzy. It can also make your head and heart pound, or cause ringing in your ears. If anemia becomes severe, you will probably need a blood transfusion.


What are the symptoms of anemia?

The most common symptom of anemia is fatigue, but there are other symptoms that you may experience. If you have a history of anemia in your family, make sure your doctor knows this. Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath with exertion
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat and chest pain with physical activity
  • Headache
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Over sensitivity to cold


What can I do for anemia?

Anemia often makes you feel very tired, but sometimes fatigue can be caused from stress associated with your diagnosis or treatment. At any rate, when you feel weary, weak, or exhausted, your body is telling you it needs to rest.

  • Give yourself permission to rest often, especially when you feel fatigued. During the day, several short naps can be refreshing and can give your energy level a boost. At night go to bed earlier or sleep later in the morning.
  • If you are having trouble sleeping, avoid caffeine after 6 p.m. (coffee, tea, carbonated drinks, chocolate, etc.). In order to breath better and increase the efficiency of your oxygen intake sleep on an incline or use extra pillows to prop yourself up.
  • Conserve your energy by limiting your activities to only those things that are necessary. You might ask for extra help from your friends and family to do routine chores, run errands, or take care of children. If you do exercise, plan regular periods, and don’t overdo it. Remember to get up slowly after sitting or stooping to avoid feeling light-headed.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet of leafy, green vegetables and foods with high iron and protein content, such as lean beef, cheese, seafood, yogurt, cereals, nuts, and legumes. These foods will increase your blood’s iron and protein level which gives you energy, and it can help your digestive tract. If you prefer, try a nutritional supplement liquid.

If symptoms of anemia become severe enough to prevent you from normal activity, your doctor will likely recommend a transfusion of packed red blood cells. A transfusion will correct your anemia immediately, but if you have reservations about receiving a blood transfusion, you should speak to your doctor.

In some cases, your physician may prescribe colony stimulating factors (CSF’s) for anemia. CSF’s will increase the number of red blood cells, but it is usually two to four weeks before the benefits of CSF’s are experienced with anemia.


We’re Here for You

Your CCNW doctor or nurse can give you more ideas about relief of anemic symptoms, so be sure to ask if you have any questions or concerns. Side effects from your cancer treatment can be successfully managed with open communication between you and your CCNW oncologist. Because you and CCNW are a team — we are here for you and want to help in any way we can.