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Iron supplementation for cancer treatments

Cancer and cancer therapies can lead to the development of anaemia, iron deficiency (ID) or both. 1

About 40 % of cancer patients are found to have anaemia when they are first diagnosed with cancer and over 60 % of cancer patients become anaemic at least once during the first six months after the diagnosis. 1 One possible cause of this anaemia is ID and around 30-45 % of people across all types of cancers are iron deficient. 1

There are many reasons why you may be iron deficient if you have cancer. Some of these reasons are dependent on the type of cancer you have. 1 These include:

  • Gastrointestinal or colorectal cancer: you might be losing blood, and therefore iron 1
  • Some gynaecological cancers 1,2
  • Chronic inflammation can occur with all types of cancers: an inflammatory state within the body disrupts the iron transport systems, and the body’s iron stores cannot be delivered to the bone marrow where they are needed for red blood cell production, leading to decreased red blood cell production and anaemia 2

Cancer therapies can also lead to the development of anaemia. Chemotherapy can suppress the production of red blood cells in your bone marrow, and this effect can get worse with multiple rounds of chemotherapy. 2 To help with your anaemia during chemotherapy you may be given erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) which work by signalling the production of red blood cells. 2,3 For ESAs to work best, your doctor may need to prescribe extra iron to ensure that you have enough iron to make haemoglobin for the new red blood cells. 1-3

It is important that you talk to your doctor  if you are concerned about your cancer, your treatment, or if you are experiencing any signs of iron deficiency.


  1. Aapro M, Österborg A, Gascón P, Ludwig H, Beguin Y. Prevalence and management of cancer-related anaemia, iron deficiency and the specific role of i.v. iron. Ann Oncol 2012;23(8):1954-1962.
  2. Janis M. Supportive Oncology Iron Deficiency Anemia in Cancer Patients. Oncol Hematol Rev 2012;8(2):74-80.
  3. Wittwer I. Iron deficiency anaemia in chronic kidney disease. J Ren Care 2013;39(3):182-188.
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