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Anemia, Iron Deficiency, and Iron Infusion for Cancer Patients

By: | Tags: | Comments: 0 | March 15th, 2017

The human body contains a number of minerals, with iron being one of the most important. Iron contributes to the formation of hemoglobin, the red blood cells that are responsible for supplying the body and its organs with adequate quantities of oxygen.

Iron Deficiency from Cancer

Iron deficiency, commonly known as anemia, can result from the loss blood due to internal or external bleeding, from a metabolically low production of iron in the body, or can be a side effect intestinal disorders and some cancers.

Cancers known to cause iron deficiency and blood loss include colon, rectal, stomach and esophageal cancers. To make matters more challenging, some chemotherapy medicines used to treat cancer can also contribute to low iron stores by preventing the body from fully absorbing iron.

A shortage of red blood cells caused by low iron impairs the ability of the body to circulate oxygen to the body’s tissues. The lack of oxygen robs the body of energy and causes the other symptoms of anemia, often during cancer treatment when you most need energy.

Replacement Options

Iron can be replaced by taking supplements and by changing eating habits to include a diet with rich in red meat, pork and poultry, seafood, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, dried fruit, and peas. If supplements and dietary changes don’t deliver enough iron to overcome anemia, an iron infusion may be required.

When Infusion is Indicated

An iron infusion is a liquid dose of iron given in the veins. A 2016 study of iron infusion therapy pointed out that “Anemia is a major cause of morbidity in patients with cancer resulting in poor physical performance, prognosis, and therapy outcome.” The study found that “IV iron administration in cancer patients undergoing active oncologic treatment is an effective and safe measure for correction of anemia, and prevention of worsening of anemia.”

Infusion Side Effects

Side effects of iron infusion can include muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, strange taste in the mouth, diarrhea, constipation, headache, cough, back pain, joint pain, dizziness, or swelling of the arms and legs. Pain, swelling, or redness at the injection site may occur. In most cases, the side effects are mild and manageable.

Iron infusion procedures are usually performed in a medical practice, clinic or hospital and it can last for a couple of hours, depending on the quantity of iron prescribed. In general, several iron transfusions are necessary in order for hemoglobin to reach its normal level.

How it Works

In many cases, a doctor will begin an iron infusion by administering a small dose in order to determine how a patient tolerates iron. If no adverse reaction appears, the doctor will increase the amount with each day, until complete tolerance is obtained. The careful administration of the iron infusion guarantees that there will be none or minimal side-effects. Antihistamines are often administered at the same time with the iron infusion in order to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction.

The level of efficiency of the iron infusion depends on the severity of the anemia and on each individual patient. Some of the side effects may occur during the infusion, and it is important for patients to tell doctors or staff about any discomfort during the procedure.

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