Blood Count and Anemia

Ortho Biotech Products, LP
Last Modified: December 17, 2002

Blood is composed of cells that move around in a watery substance called plasma. The three basic types of cells in blood are red cells, white cells, and platelets.

It works like this: Your body uses oxygen to produce energy. The hemoglobin(Hb) in red blood cells carries oxygen to all parts of the body, providing the energy needed fo normal activities, and they remove carbon dioxide. When you are anemic, less oxygen reaches your muscles and organs like your heart. Not having enough red blood cells to carry oxygen places extra demands on your body.

Sample CBC Test

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White cells fight infection and harmful substances that invade the body. Platelets help stop bleeding by plugging leaks in blood vessels. It takes all three working together properly to perform vital bodily tasks. To know how your blood cells are working, a complete blood count (CBC) measures the levels, or counts, of the different types of cells in the blood. Because cancer and its treatments can cause blood counts to drop, a CBC is one of the most important tests that people with cancer routinely get.

Regular CBC testing can help catch a low or high blood count so it can be treated before it becomes serious. Like many drugs, PROCRIT® (Epoetin alfa) takes approximately four weeks before you feel a difference. With regular CBC tests, you may be started on PROCRIT® before your anemia gets too serious.


PROCRIT® is for chemotherapy-related anemia in patients with most types of cancer.

Know Your Hb Count

If you have cancer, especially if you're receiving chemotherapy, it's important for you to know your Hb count.

The normal Hb count (or level) is:

  • 14 g/dL to 18 g/dL for men
  • 12 g/dL to 16 g/dL for women
  • If your Hb count is lower than the normal range and you always feel tired, ask your doctor about treatment to raise your Hb count.

Hemoglobin is measured in grams (g) per deciliter (dL). The average hemoglobin value for men is 16 g/dL and for women is 14 g/dL. However,the definition of "normal" varies from person to person. If your hemoglobin is outside the normal range, contact your health care provider.

More About Hb and Hb Counts

Hemoglobin (Hb) is vital because it carries oxygen to all parts of your body.

Where is it?
Hb is in the red cells in your bloodstream

Why is it important?
Your body needs fuel to run, just like a car. The oxygen carried by Hb is the fuel your body needs to stay active.

Can I count on it?
Normally your body makes enough red cells. But some things can keep your body from making enough red cells. If this happened, your Hb count would drop and your body wouldn't get enough oxygen. Chemotherapy to treat cancer can cause this. A shortage of nutrients such as iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid also can lower Hb counts.

What happens when there's not enough?
Anemia develops. Over time, you would become tired physically and mentally. Have you ever held your breath for longer than a minute? Do you remember how tired you were afterward? With anemia, you would feel tired all the time. Even extra sleep wouldn't help you feel better.

How can I check it out?
Ask your doctor for a blood test to check your Hb. Normal Hb counts, or levels, are 14-18 g/dL for men and 12-16 g/dL for women.

Can it go back up?
There are ways you can get your Hb count back up to normal. Your doctor will help you decide which way is best for you.

Taking Charge of Your Health: Have Your Hb Checked Regularly

  1. Seek nutritional advice about including iron- and vitamin-rich foods and supplements in your diet
  2. Plan your activities to save energy and prevent fatigue
  3. Be informed about all of your medicines and treatments, including what they do and their side effects
  4. Be sure to ask your doctor if you have any questions about your disease and/or treatment

From the National Cancer Institute