Managing a Low White Blood Cell Count (Neutropenia) Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles, with periods of rest that give your body time to regain strength and replace healthy cells lost during treatment. However, a low count of infection-fighting white blood cells, or Neutrogena, is a common side effect of certain types of chemotherapy that can disrupt your chemotherapy schedule.
A low white blood cell count means your immune system isn't as strong as it
could be and that you are at increased risk of infection. The fewer white blood
cells you have and the longer you remain without enough, the more at risk you
become for developing a potentially life-threatening infection.
As a result, your doctor may need to delay treatment or reduce your
Chemotherapy dose until your white blood cell count increases and the possibility
of infection is reduced. Under certain circumstances, you may need to be
admitted to the hospital until your infection is cured and your number of white
blood cells returns to levels high enough to fight infections in the future. The good
news is you can prepare for chemotherapy and help lower your risk of infection.
Your doctor has carefully determined your chemotherapy dose and schedule to
produce the best opportunity for a successful outcome. Reducing or altering
either can affect your results. Studies show that for certain types of cancer,
Chemotherapy produces the best results when patients receive the full dose on
Fever is a sign of infection, sometimes the only sign. If you develop a fever
(temperature higher than 100.4°F, or 38°C), notify your doctor immediately.
Infection associated with a low white blood ce lclount can be life-threatening.
An infection can occur in any number of places throughout the body. Specific
symptoms can indicate the site of your infection and help target your treatment.
- Bladder Painful urination
- Gastrointestinal tract Diarrhea, cramping
- Rectum Rectal bleeding, pain while defecating
- Respiratory system Cough, congestion, yellow or green sputum (fluid
coughed up from lungs)
- Sinus Sinus pain, congestion, headache
- Skin Redness, pain, tenderness or swelling near a cu t
- Systemic (throughout body) Flu-like symptoms
Given the option, most patients would prefer to prevent infection rather than have
to deal with its results. Your first line of defense should always be prevention.
Take these simple but effective steps to help protect yourself against infection:
- Always wash your hands with soap and plenty of water. Many infections
are transmitted through hands and things that you touch, such as
doorknobs. Washing your hands thoroughly is the most important thing
you can do to prevent infection .
- Avoid people with colds or the flu .
- Avoid large crowds to reduce the likelihood of coming into contact with
- Bathe daily and carefully dry your skin.
- Take steps to prevent cuts or scrapes, as these provide entry points for
- Use an electric razor instead of a blade to avoid cuts.
- Use caution with sharp objects.
- Wear gloves when possible.
- If you have a cut or scrape, keep it covered with a clean bandage until it
- Prevent cracks in your skin by using lotion.
- Cook your food thoroughly to kill any potential microorganisms that may
be on raw food.
Prepare yourself for chemotherapy by lowering your risk for infection .
Be Proactive Against Infection and Treatment Interruptions