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The Importance of B-12 for Cancer Patients

Vitamin B-12 (also known as cobalamin) is commonly found in meat, fish and dairy products. It is also available as a supplement. Absorbing B-12 has many benefits for our health, including aiding in the development of red blood cells and DNA and improving cell metabolism and nerve function. 

Here at Southeastern Med, we pay special attention to the B-12 levels of our cancer patients. While cancer may not directly cause B-12 deficiency, it can be more difficult for patients with low B-12 to recover because they do not have the right nutrients to help their body.

Generally, B-12 deficiencies are fairly rare. Among younger, healthy people, deficiencies are most common in vegans and vegetarians. That is because they cannot get the same B-12 intake from their diets. However, even people who eat meat can be susceptible to B-12-related issues. As people age, if a patient has bowel problems or if they have had bowel surgery, these patients can also develop B-12 deficiencies.  Digestive tract conditions can start to affect how your body absorbs nutrients. If a cancer diagnosis is added to a pre-existing B-12 deficiency, immediate action may be required.

“If someone cannot absorb B-12, they need to take it sublingually or as an injection,” explains Dr. Elaine Beed, a board-certified oncologist and hematologist and Medical Director of Southeastern Med Cancer Services. “People who have abnormally low B-12 can have weakness and even cognitive issues. If not corrected quickly, these could become permanent.”

Dr. Beed has more than 40 years of experience in her field, and she is always careful to explain to patients why the role of the oncologist goes well beyond treating cancerous tumors. She recognizes the importance of putting patients in the best possible situation to carry out their treatment with success.

“Oncologists are first, board-certified internists,” Dr. Beed says, “we know how to deal with multiple medical problems that might impact their cancer care.”

 A healthy intake of B-12, whether in a normal diet, through a supplement, or via injection, can help a cancer patient recover. It can also help reduce the risk of cancers in healthy people. In most cases, the body only absorbs the amount of B-12 it needs and naturally discards the rest. A standard blood test with your doctor can help determine whether your B-12 levels are at the right level. Talk to your physician about testing your B-12 levels or call the John W. & Edna McManus Shepard Cancer Center at 740.439.2771.

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