Department of Medical Oncology & Hematology

Neutropenia Care Management

Neutropenia is when a person has a low level of neutrophils. Neutrophils are 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. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue found in larger bones such as the pelvis, vertebrae, and ribs.

Some level of neutropenia takes place in about half of people with cancer who are receiving chemotherapy. It is a common side effect in people with leukemia. If you have neutropenia, practice good personal hygiene to lower your risk of infection. This includes washing your hands regularly.

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.

Signs and symptoms of neutropenia :

Neutropenia itself may not cause any symptoms. Patients usually find out they have neutropenia from a blood test or when they get an infection. Some people will feel more tired when they have neutropenia. Your doctor will schedule regular blood tests to look for neutropenia and other blood-related side effects of chemotherapy.
For patients with neutropenia, even a minor infection can quickly become serious. Talk with your health care team right away if you have any of these signs of infection:

  • A fever, which is a temperature of 100.5°F or higher
  • Chills or sweating
  • Sore throat, sores in the mouth, or a toothache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain near the anus
  • Pain or burning when urinating, or urinating often
  • Diarrhea or sores around the anus
  • A cough or shortness of breath
  • Any redness, swelling, or pain (especially around a cut, wound, or catheter)
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or itching

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