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Med Oncol. 2008;25(1):12-21. doi: 10.1007/s12032-007-9000-8. Epub 2007 Sep 2.

Anaemia of cancer: an overview of mechanisms involved in its pathogenesis.

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  • 1Department of Clinical Pathology, Faculty of Medical Sciences, State University of Campinas - UNICAMP, CP 6111, 13083-970, Campinas, SP, Brazil.


Anaemia is a common complication in cancer patients. The decrease in haemoglobin is associated with an impaired quality of life, poorer response to therapy and worse prognosis. Numerous factors are involved in the physiopathology of cancer-related anaemia. Some factors such as bleeding, bone marrow infiltration, the effects of chemoradiotherapy and associated nutritional deficiencies are related to the disease itself. In addition, the interaction of the immune system with iron metabolism and erythropoiesis has been shown to be an important factor in the development of anaemia in cancer patients and can be seen in the action of several cytokines on different iron-homeostasis and erythrocyte-cell-production pathways. Some inhibitory cytokines, such as tumour necrosis factor-alpha and interleukin-1, act on the suppression of erythroid precursor cells and erythropoietic production and response; others, such as interleukins 1 and 6 and hepcidin, impair iron metabolism, causing iron to be diverted from erythropoiesis and retained within the reticuloendothelial system. The main mechanisms involved in the development of cancer-related anaemia are discussed in this review.

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