Some cancers can cause anemia when they cause internal bleeding or disrupt red blood cell production and function.
Anemia is the inadequate supply of healthy red blood cells.
Anemia can be caused by many factors, and one of them is cancer.
If a person suspects anemia due to having symptoms such as tiring easily, getting winded easily, pale skin, dizziness and chest pain, they may jump to the conclusion they have cancer – if they know that cancer is associated with some cases of anemia.
However, anemia normally has non-malignant causes such as an intestinal ulcer, menstruation, poor diet and low iron levels. But some non-malignant causes are serious such as liver disease or lupus.
When Cancer Is Associated with Anemia
The association is infrequent, but the explanation is that “Any advanced cancer can cause anemia by causing inflammation, causing bone marrow suppression and decrease in production of red cells or sometimes destruction of red cells,” says Mark Levandovsky, MD, Founder and Medical Director of Preventive Medicine and Cancer Care. Dr. Levandovsky is a board certified internist and oncologist/hematologist in practice for 20 years.
“In a more advanced setting bleeding is also possible, with anemia as a result,” continues Dr. Levandovsky.
Some cancers that can result in anemia.
• Head and neck
• Metastases to the bone marrow
• Urinary tract
“Typically, for anemia to be present, cancer burden would be significant enough for other symptoms to be noted also…so anemia alone would be atypical,” says Levandovsky.
:Potential exceptions may be gastrointestinal cancers, especially colorectal ones – where early stage cancers can cause iron-deficiency anemias without other symptoms.”
If your doctor, during a routine physical or an exam for a benign condition, happens to mention that you look really pale and wants to order a blood test for anemia, do not panic.
It’s logical to suppose that dermatologists would make this observation less frequently than would physicians of other specialties, as they would more likely associate pale skin with healthy skin (the paleness suggesting low sun exposure), while skin “with color” could suggest overexposure to the sun.
The doctor who ordered a blood test for me, due to my pale facial skin (low sun exposure and no makeup) was an OBGYN. My blood test was normal.
But it’s good when doctors are making these observations when the patient is being examined for an unrelated issue.