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Neutropenia (low white blood cell count)

White blood cells play an important role in protecting us from infection. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. Neutrophils are our body's first line of defense against infection.

It is common for cancer patients to experience low white blood cells, especially those receiving chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can reduce the number of neutrophils produced by your bone marrow. Having too few neutrophils is called neutropenia. If you have neutropenia, you have an increased risk of infection.

If your white blood cell count becomes too low, your chemotherapy may need to be reduced or delayed. If neutropenia is left untreated, it can lead to serious infection. Such infections can even be life-threatening and you may need to stay in the hospital.

Your healthcare team will check to see if you have low white blood cell counts frequently. If your white blood cell counts are too low, they may recommend treatment.

What about infection?

You should take care not to develop a fever and/or an infection during chemotherapy. Learn how to avoid infection and to identify the symptoms of infection. Ask your healthcare team who you should contact in case of fever or infection.

Call your healthcare team right away if you have a fever of 38.2ºC or higher. Also, ask for after hours contact information. If you have a fever, do not take any medicine without checking with your doctor first. It's important to make a decision about treatment after talking to your healthcare team and discussing the benefits or the possibility of any negative effects. If you go to emergency department, tell them you are on chemotherapy treatment.

What can you do to prevent infection?

  • clean your hands often, especially after using the toilet
  • stay away from people who have the flu, colds or contagious diseases
  • keep your mouth clean
  • wash all fruits and vegetables before eating
  • avoid raw meat and fish
  • do not share drinking glasses, eating utensils and toothbrushes
  • do not use ice from commercial ice machines (hotels, bags from stores, gas stations)
  • use rubber gloves if you must clean up after a pet
  • use sanitizing wipes to clean surfaces and items that you touch, this includes doorknobs, ATM machines, public phones and other common items
  • wear gloves when gardening


Southlake Regional Health Centre
596 Davis Drive, Newmarket, Ontario   L3Y 2P9
Tel: 905-895-4521   |   TTY: 905-952-3062
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