Neutropenia and Risk for Infection
What Is Neutropenia?
Neutropenia, pronounced noo-troh-PEE-nee-uh, is a decrease in the number of white blood cells. These cells are the body’s main defense against infection. Neutropenia is common after receiving chemotherapy and increases your risk for infections.
Why Does Chemotherapy Cause Neutropenia?
These cancer-fighting drugs work by killing fast-growing cells in the body—both good and bad. These drugs kill cancer cells as well as healthy white blood cells.
How Do I Know if I Have Neutropenia?
Your doctor or nurse will tell you. Because neutropenia is common after receiving chemotherapy, your doctor may draw some blood to look for neutropenia.
When Will I Be Most Likely to Have Neutropenia?
Neutropenia often occurs between 7 and 12 days after you receive chemotherapy. This period can be different depending upon the chemotherapy you get. Your doctor or nurse will let you know exactly when your white blood cell count is likely to be at its lowest. You should carefully watch for signs and symptoms of infection during this time.
How Can I Prevent Neutropenia?
There is not much you can do to prevent neutropenia from occurring, but you can decrease your risk for getting an infection while your white blood cell count is low.
“The time came for me to go back to work. I was greeted by friends and colleagues. I had to wave off their hugs and handshakes. It was January, the height of cold and flu season, and thanks to chemo my white blood cell count was at a dangerously low level,” says Ronda, who was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer a week before Christmas. “There was never a moment when I wasn’t keenly aware of the danger of infection and what it would mean for me if I got one.”