Blood Transfusion for Prostate Cancer
What to expect during a blood transfusion...
If you are reading this the chances are good that either you or someone you care about has metastatic prostate cancer. This means that the prostate cancer has spread to the bones.
You are losing valuable hemoglobin that your body needs to function correctly. Your healthy red blood cells are low. You will need to have your hemoglobin replaced with a blood transfusion.
People who have anemia also need to have blood transfusions. You are now considered anemic. It's normal to feel frightened when you first hear that this treatment is needed, but it's not as drastic as it sounds. Many prostate cancer patients consider it the "Super Soldier Serum," "Breakfast of Champions" or "Power Juice."
Dave prefers to refer to his Taxotere Chemo treatments as "Power Juice." His blood transfusions are "Super Soldier Serum."
Your hemoglobin level is checked via a CBC (complete blood count) which takes only minutes to do. A small amount of blood is withdrawn from a vein and is tested. Your count reveals what your hemoglobin (Hgb) is. The normal range for a male is 13.5 to 18 gm/dl.
Red blood cells
Signs and symptoms of low hemoglobin:
- A feeling of weakness
- Shortness of breath
- Cognitive problems
- Pain in the chest
- Pale skin
- Fast/Irregular heartbeat
Not everyone exhibits signs and symptoms. It all depends on your overall health (minus the prostate cancer). It also depends on how active you are. People all react differently. No two patients are the same.
If you have been following my husband's story on his Prostate Cancer Journey, you would know that his hemoglobin dropped to 7.0, and he had no symptoms at all. That's dangerously low. If we weren't diligent on keeping track of his blood counts the worse could have happened. We go for weekly CBC tests. Blood transfusions average once a month. Again I emphasize that all patients are different. This is our journey. Your journey is your unique story.
As an advocate for prostate cancer I've often been asked what to expect during a blood transfusion. How do you know you need one? What happens before? After? This is my first hand knowledge of what I've witnessed. I offer answers that our oncologist has given us. My husband offers his input also.
What to expect before, during and after a blood transfusion...
Blood transfusions for anemia are performed at local area hospitals. I also know hospice centers perform them. I am only familiar with a hospital setting. A few days before, the day before or the day of a blood transfusion you must have a type and cross done. We never did a T&C the day of because we opted out of having to wait an additional two hours for an already long day at a hospital.
What's a type and cross? We were clueless as to what this meant the first time we heard it. You are required to visit the place where you are having the transfusion done and have a small vial of blood drawn. This procedure is done to determine your blood type and the rh factor so that your units of blood could be produced for you with the least amount of reactions possible. This blood has a short shelf life so once a transfusion appointment is set, do your best to stick with it. You will be given a medical bracelet with an identification number on it. This number MUST match your units of blood and MUST be verified by the medical personal performing your transfusion.
You will be told when to report for your transfusion. Dave was told to eat and drink as normal. It's advisable to drink some water beforehand to plump up your veins for a needle insertion for the IV. I've only seen a regular size needle. No monstrous needles should be used. We've been through 8 transfusions so far. A family member is welcome to stay with the patient.
Prepare to sit in a recliner or hospital bed for anywhere from 6-8 hours. Depending on how many units of blood and how speedy and efficient the staff is. The recliner is more comfortable according to Dave.
Each unit takes up to 2.5 to 3 hours. Sometimes more, sometimes less. It all depends if you need to use the restroom and unplug the IV which halts the transfusion.
Normally benadryl is injected into the IV just in case there are any adverse reactions to the transfusion. I've heard this is very rare. Tylenol tablets are also usually given at this time. Due to the sedative effects of benadryl you will sleep, doze off and be relaxed. You will most likely be hungry, so bring snacks. Pack a lunch also. Dave is normally served lunch since this is considered an inpatient treatment. Rumors are true that hospital food is bland and boring.
The saline solution is pumped into the IV at a slow rate for a short time. Then your blood replenishment (power juice) is administered. The saline pump is turned off at this time.
Sit back, relax, watch TV and know that this process will help you feel better.
After the first unit is complete, the saline pump is turned back on to clear the IV line and Lasix is injected into your IV. This diuretic medication is used to help you reduce some fluid retention. You will use the bathroom.
The transfusion process repeats itself for the second unit of power juice. There was one time when three units were needed. Oh my, that was a long day. We now do our best to keep it to two units by having his hemoglobin checked weekly. We used to panic about PSA numbers, we now stress over hemoglobin numbers. We are both not fans of numbers anymore.
Once the second unit clears you are done. Your breakfast of champions is now complete. Afterwards you will probably want to go home and take a nap. Some patients do, some don't. It takes a few hours to feel the rejuvenating effects. You will have more energy and shortness of breath should go away. Your nurse will give you a detailed list of what symptoms to look for after the procedure.
We are usually exhausted afterwards. It has a lot ot do with sitting around and waiting. Yet, it's for a good reason.
I wish you good luck and good health. If you have any questions you could contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE: July 7th, 2014
We found out today that there are new guidelines for blood transfusions. It used to be that if hemoglobin was bordering around 8.0 a transfusion was warranted. Now protocol is for 7.0. What's the reasoning? So that patients do not build up antibodies in which case their bodies would reject new blood. Now this is not set in stone...it all depends on the health of the patient. If a patient is tired, sleeping too much, short of breath or dizzy of course they would be transfused. Dave is feeling fine. We will recheck the hemo on Thursday.
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I'd like to take a moment and mention that each year over 15 Million people require a blood transfusion. Certain blood types are in short supply. Consider a blood donation as your way of giving back. It's a gift you could give someone else. Most importantly you could help save a life. Have you considered donating your blood? I'm including this link for more information from the American Red Cross. Blood Donations.
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© 2012 Linda Bilyeu
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