Chemotherapy drug treatments reduce the number of neutrophils, also known as white bloods cells that protect the body against infection. This causes a condition known as neutropenia. Cancer patients that suffer from neutropenia have an increased risk of bacterial infections and could be fatal if left untreated. Some symptoms of neutropenia include body aches, fever and fatigue. Doctors normally find neutropenia when conducting a complete blood count (CBC) to determine the number of red and white blood cell counts.
Physicians determine the risk of neutropenia by calculating the neutrophil count, called the absolute
neutrophil count (ANC). The absolute neutrophil count is calculated by
multiplying the total white blood count by the percent of neutrophils.
The following scale shows the risk of infection based on the ANC:
Risk of Infection based on Absolute Neutrophil Count (ANC)
ANC greater than 1500: No increased risk of infection
ANC 1000-1500: Slight increase in risk of infection
ANC 500-1000: Moderate increase in risk of infection
ANC 100-500: High risk of infection
ANC less than 100: Extremely high risk of infection
Drugs That Cause Neutropenia
Overall, most chemotherapy drugs can cause neutropenia because they tend to lower the number of neutrophils. They grow quickly but only survive three days.
Drug Treatments for Neutropenia
Physicians treat cancer patients that suffer from neutropenia with a drug called Neupogen (filgrastim). This substance recreates blood growth factors that boost the number of white blood cells. It is given by injection every five to seven days, but due to the inconvenience of this frequency, another type of drug called Neulasta (pedfilgrastim) was developed. It lasts longer and needs to be administered every 21 days. These drugs have side effects of their own that causes bone and joint pain.
Other Precautions to Reduce Risks of Infection
The following precautions should be taken by patients with neutropenia to reduce risk of infection:
- Avoid people that might be sick with a cold, flu or infection
- Keep skin moist to prevent dry, cracking skin
- Don’t scratch sores and keep them clean with antiseptic and a bandage
- Don’t eat raw foods
- Keep mouth clean, brush regularly and use alcohol-free mouthwash