Managing Anemia at Home

Anemia is a condition caused by a low hemoglobin level in the blood. It’s common during cancer treatment.

On a blood test, the hemoglobin percentage measures the ability of the red blood cells to carry oxygen.

  • For men: A normal hemoglobin range is about 14.5 to 18.
  • For women: A normal hemoglobin range is about 12 to 16.

Most people still feel well with a hemoglobin as low as 10. Feeling tired is a common sign of anemia.

What to look for

  • New or worsening tiredness that makes it harder to do your regular activities
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath when you’re active
  • Pale skin, nail beds, or gums
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Bright red, dark red, or black stool (poop)
  • Dark brown or bright red vomit

(The last 2 are signs of bleeding, which can cause anemia.)

What the patient can do

  • Balance rest and activities.
  • Tell your cancer team if you’re not able to get around as well as usual.
  • Plan your important activities when you have the most energy.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes protein (such as fish, meat, eggs, cheese, milk, nuts, peas, and beans).
  • Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day, unless you are given other instructions. It’s OK to drink other liquids instead of water – just not beer, wine, or other alcoholic drinks.

What caregivers can do

  • Schedule friends and family members to prepare meals, clean the house, do yard work, or run errands for the patient. You can use websites that help organize these things, or get someone else to look into this for you.
  • Watch for confusion, faintness, or dizziness.

Call the cancer team if the patient:

  • Has chest pains
  • Has shortness of breath when resting
  • Feels dizzy or faint
  • Gets confused or can’t concentrate
  • Has not been able to get out of bed for more than 24 hours
  • Has blood in their stool
  • Has dark brown or bright red vomit

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Kasper DL, et al (Eds). Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 17th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical, 2008.

Camp-Sorrell D, Hawkins RA. Clinical Manual for the Oncology Advanced Practice Nurse, Second Ed. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.

Cope DG, Reb AM. An Evidence-Based Approach to the Treatment and Care of the Older Adult with Cancer. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.

Houts PS, Bucher JA. Caregiving, Revised ed. Atlanta: American Cancer Society, 2003.

Kaplan M. Understanding and Managing Oncologic Emergencies: A Resource for Nurses. Pittsburgh: Oncology Nursing Society, 2006.

Kuebler KK, Berry PH, Heidrich DE. End-of-Life Care: Clinical Practice Guidelines. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co. 2002.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Cancer- and Chemotherapy-Induced Anemia. Version 2.2015. Accessed at March 19, 2015.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Palliative Care. Version 1.2015. Accessed at on March 19, 2015.

Oncology Nursing Society. Cancer Symptoms. Accessed at on April 3, 2013.

Ripamonti C, Bruera E. Gastrointestinal Symptoms in Advanced Cancer Patients. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Varricchio CG. A Cancer Source Book for Nurses, 8th ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2004.

Yarbro CH, Frogge MH, Goodman M. Cancer Symptom Management, 3rd ed. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2004.

Last Medical Review: June 8, 2015 Last Revised: June 8, 2015

American Cancer Society medical information is copyrighted material. For reprint requests, please see our Content Usage Policy.