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Low Red Blood Cell Count

Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents ESAs)

In 2007, after studies indicated that the use of the drugs increased the risk of death and/or cancer progression in some cancer patients, received an FDA warning. If you have anemia, you should talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of using ESAs such as Epoetin alfa (PROCRIT®) or Darbepoetin (Aranesp®) to manage your anemia.

Blood cells are rapidly dividing cells, so chemotherapy can affect them during treatment.  

Low red blood cell count (anemia)

A condition called anemia occurs when the number of red blood cells (RBCs) in the body decreases. Red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs throughout your body, a process that is very important to maintaining a normal energy level. Lung cancer or its treatment may decrease your RBC level and your body tissues may not get enough oxygen.

Symptoms of low blood count:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Fast heart beat

Practical tips to manage low red blood cell count:

  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of protein and iron
  • Get adequate rest
  • Drink lots of liquids

Be sure to inform your doctor if your anemia symptoms continue. Recommendations for treatment such as a blood transfusion may be made.  Your doctor may also recommend injections of erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs, see box for more information).