MN, M.D.: What’s The Connection Between Anemia And Cancer?

August 5, 2013  |  

Q: Can anemia be associated with cancer?

To answer the question simply: yes it can.  However, having anemia does not mean that you have cancer.  Anemia is a condition in which your red blood cells are low and it can be caused by so many things.  The most frequent cause of anemia in young women is having regular menstrual periods.  Bleeding, in general, can cause anemia.  If you notice blood in your stools or even have dark colored stools, this could lead to anemia.  That is why it is important to check your blood levels periodically to see if they are low.  There are other minerals and vitamins that can also cause anemia.  Vitamin B12, vitamin B6, and folate are the three most common nutritional deficiencies that can make you anemic. Anemia is also a side effect of some drugs and can also be due to genetics (eg, sickle cell anemia).  What is the point I am trying to make?  If you are told that you have anemia, you and your doctor also need to determine it’s particular cause in you.

So how are cancer and anemia related? Cancers are basically cells that multiply rapidly.  The signal that tells a normal cell to stop growing and multiply is defective in these cells.  So, these abnormal cells can grow into the bone marrow of bones (where red blood cells are made) and cause trouble.  That trouble is usually stopping the body from making more normal red cells, which causes anemia. Cancers can cause anemia to occur by creating blood loss and even directly destroying red blood cells that are already circulating in the body.

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