Infection Risk During Chemotherapy
Strong chemotherapy described as myelosuppressive (my-eh-lo-suh-press-iv) can lower the number of infection-fighting white blood cells called neutrophils in your body. White blood cells are a key part of your immune system. At normal levels, white blood cells help protect your body against infection.1
A reduced neutrophil count is known as neutropenia (nu-tro-pee-nee-a).1 Neutropenia can put patients at risk for certain types of infection. Having neutropenia along with a fever—sometimes called a neutropenic fever or febrile neutropenia—may be a sign of a serious infection.2
Certain risk factors increase your chance of infection
According to national guidelines, if you are treated with strong chemotherapy, you may have a greater chance of developing low white blood cell counts or infections if any of the following conditions apply to you:3,4
- You have been treated with strong chemotherapy or radiation before
- You have other medical conditions (such as liver or kidney dysfunction, infections, or open wounds)
- You developed low white blood cell counts before, while being treated with chemo
- You already had a low white blood cell count before starting strong chemotherapy
- Your cancer has spread to your bone marrow
Your doctor may recommend that you take a prescription medication that boosts the number of infection-fighting white blood cells called neutrophils.5Learn More
What Can Happen to White Blood Cells During Strong Chemotherapy1
Before chemotherapy: White blood cells are a key part of your body’s fighting force (your immune system). At natural levels, white blood cells help protect your body against infection.
With strong chemotherapy: Strong chemotherapy can lower the number of infection-fighting white blood cells in your body, which may increase your risk for infection.
- Wujcik D. Infection. In: Groenwald SL, Goodman M, Frogge MH, Yarbro CH, eds. Cancer Symptom Management. Boston, Mass: Jones & Bartlett Publishers; 1996:289-304.
- National Cancer Institute. Dictionary of Cancer Terms: Febrile neutropenia. http://www.cancer.gov/dictionary?expand=F. Accessed May 7, 2014.
- Referenced with permission from the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) for Myeloid Growth Factors V.2.2014. © National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc 2014. All rights reserved. Accessed May 29, 2014. To view the most recent and complete version of the guideline, go online to NCCN.org. NATIONAL COMPREHENSIVE CANCER NETWORK®, NCCN®, NCCN GUIDELINES®, and all other NCCN Content are trademarks owned by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Inc.
- Lyman GH. J Natl Compr Canc Netw. 2005;3:557-571.
- Neulasta® (pegfilgrastim) Prescribing Information, Amgen.