Cancer patients often require blood transfusions due to complications associated with their disease and its treatments. Cancer treatments can suppress blood cell production, leading to anemia, low platelet counts, and bleeding. Blood transfusions are crucial in replenishing blood cells, improving oxygenation, preventing bleeding, and supporting the immune system. Blood transfusions are essential for cancer patients to treat and manage their condition effectively.

What is the importance of blood transfusion for cancer patients?

Cancer is life-threatening; however, blood transfusions help support the treatment and manage the state of the body to help fight cancer. 

Anemia Management

Cancer and its treatments often lead to anemia, characterized by low red blood cell count. Blood transfusions promptly replenish red blood cells, alleviating fatigue, weakness, and shortness of breath and enhancing patients’ overall well-being.

Treatment Support

Cancer therapies can suppress bone marrow function, reducing blood cell production. However, transfusions maintain adequate blood cell levels, enabling uninterrupted patient treatment.

Bleeding Prevention and Treatment

Cancer treatments may cause low platelet counts and increased bleeding risk. Platelet transfusions prevent or control bleeding, ensuring proper clotting function and minimizing complications.

Immune System Support

Specific cancer treatments weaken the immune system. However, transfusions, particularly with particular blood components, boost immune function and help fight infections.

Surgical Assistance

Blood transfusions during cancer surgeries restore blood volume, stabilize hemodynamics, and ensure proper oxygenation and organ perfusion.

Palliative Care

In advanced stages or end-of-life care, transfusions provide comforting support, improving symptoms, reducing fatigue, and enhancing comfort.

Why are blood transfusions crucial for cancer patients? 

Cancer patients have blood transfusions because cancer has different types and consequences. Some examples are mentioned below. 

  • People having cancer develop anemia sometime in their life as cancer cells scavenge normal red blood cells. The longer the period of cancer, the more chronic the anemia would be. In this case, a red blood transfusion is required.
  • Cancer can also affect other organs like the spleen and kidneys, which help to keep average cell count. So in such cases, blood transfusions play an essential role.
  • In the case of cancer removal surgery, a blood transfusion may also be required. If needed, one blood bag is always ready for the patient during surgery.
  • People having stomach cancer may need blood transfusions because they may face internal bleeding in the stomach. Blood loss causes anemia, and red blood cell transfusion is required.
  • Leukemia (blood cancer) affects the bone marrow, the main organ responsible for making red blood cells. So the effect on bone marrow will lead to low blood cell count; ultimately, blood transfusion is the option.
  • Bone marrow transplants or peripheral blood stem cell transplant lead to low blood count because of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Both therapies majorly affect RBC’s making procedure, lowering RBC’s count.

What are the types of blood transfusions for cancer patients?

Whole blood transfusion

As the name indicates, this involves the transfusion of all blood components, including red blood cells, plasma, and platelets. These transfusions are commonly used in emergencies or when a patient has lost significant blood.

Packed red blood cell (PRBC) transfusion

This type of transfusion involves only red blood cells in the receiver. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. PRBC transfusions are usually used to treat anemia or to cover blood loss during surgery or injury.

Platelet transfusion

Platelets in blood help with blood clotting. Platelet transfusions are specifically used to treat conditions that affect clottings, like leukemia and other blood disorders.

Plasma transfusion

Plasma is the blood component that contains proteins and other substances necessary for blood clotting. Plasma transfusions are used to treat conditions that affect clotting, such as liver disease or hemophilia.

Cryoprecipitate transfusion

Cryoprecipitate is a specific portion of the plasma that contains specific clotting factors. Cryoprecipitate transfusions primarily treat bleeding disorders and prevent bleeding during surgery.

What are the risk factors of blood transfusions for cancer patients?

Risk factors associated with blood transfusions in cancer patients must be considered to ensure safe and effective transfusion practices. Some risk factors to cancer patients include:

Transfusion Reactions

Transfusion reactions can occur due to incompatible blood types, antibodies, or sensitivities. These reactions range from mild allergic responses to more severe immune-mediated reactions. Therefore, healthcare professionals carefully perform compatibility testing to minimize these risks and closely monitor patients during transfusions.

Infectious Complications

Despite stringent screening protocols, there is a small risk of transfusion-transmitted infections. Blood banks meticulously screen donated blood for known infectious agents, including HIV, hepatitis B and C, and other pathogens. However, the possibility of rare or emerging infections cannot be eliminated.

Iron Overload

Frequent blood transfusions in cancer patients can lead to iron overload, which may cause organ damage and complications. Regularly monitoring iron levels and appropriate iron chelation therapy is necessary to manage this risk.

Immunomodulatory Effects

Blood transfusions can modulate the recipient’s immune system, potentially impacting the body’s immune response against cancer cells or infections. The clinical significance of these effects is still being studied.

Fluid Overload

Transfusion of large volumes of blood products, especially rapidly, can result in fluid overload, particularly in patients with underlying heart or kidney conditions. Therefore, careful monitoring of fluid balance during transfusions is vital to prevent complications related to fluid overload.


Blood transfusions refer to as a medical procedure in which blood is transferred from a donor to a recipient. It is an essential treatment for people with cancer and anemia.

Despite some risks, blood transfusions are life-saving for people with cancer. Physicians carefully undergo a person’s medical history and needs, before recommending transfusions. 

Overall, blood transfusions are a critical medical intervention and have the potential to save countless lives having cancer and will continue to play a crucial role in healthcare for the future.

Dr. Irfan Siddique is a GMC-registered Medical Doctor with more than four years of post-graduation experience in child and adolescent healthcare. He has done his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) from the University of Health and Sciences, Lahore. Afterward, he was positioned at Children’s Hospital, Faisalabad, where he ran Outpatient Department for four years. Currently, he is performing his duties as Medical Doctor at St. Barts Health NHS Trust, London.