What is neutropenia?

Neutropenia is a low level of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. All white blood cells help the body fight infection. Neutrophils fight infection by destroying harmful bacteria and fungi (yeast) that invade the body. Neutrophils are made in the bone marrow.

Cancer patients who are receiving chemotherapy have some level of neutropenia. It is a common side effect in people with leukemia. People who have neutropenia have a higher risk of getting serious infections. This is because they do not have enough neutrophils to kill organisms that cause infection. People with severe or long-lasting neutropenia are most likely to develop an infection.

How bad is my neutropenia?

Mild: ANC ranges from 1000-1500/microL

Moderate: ANC ranges from 500-1000/microL

Severe: ANC < 500/mm3 with a single temperature of >38.3 degrees C (101 degrees F) or a sustained temperature of >=38 degrees C (100.4 degrees F) for more than one hour.

How to manage mild neutropenia?
  • Good hygiene, including frequent hand washing and good dental care, such as regular tooth brushing and flossing
  • Avoid contact with sick people
  • Always wear shoes
  • Clean cuts and scrapes, then covering them with a bandage
  • Use an electric shaver rather than a razor
  • Avoid animal waste and, when possible, not changing infants’ diapers
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy foods; undercooked meat; and raw fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and honey
  • Stay out of hot tubs, ponds, and rivers
How to manage moderate and severe neutropenia?

Seek immediate medical help if you have

  • a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees Celsius
  • trouble breathing
  • nausea, diarrhea
  • soreness, redness or swelling in any part of the body
  • pain, burning, or increased urination
  • a sore throat or stiff neck
  • vaginal discharge or irritation
  • nasal congestion
  • pain in the abdomen or the rectum, or any type of new pain
  • feel confused or feel mentally different than usual
What causes neutropenia?

Several things related to cancer and its treatment can cause neutropenia:

  • Some types of chemotherapy
  • Cancers that affect the bone marrow directly (leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma)
  • Cancer that has spread to other body organs
  • Radiation therapy to several parts of the body or to bones in the pelvis, legs, chest, or abdomen

Some cancer patients are more likely to develop neutropenia, including:

  • People aged 70 or above
  • People having a lowered immune system due to other diseases (HIV or an organ transplant)

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