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What are white blood cells?
There are three main types of cells in your blood: white cells, red cells and platelets. White blood cells (WBC) help your body fight infections. When the count, or number of white blood cells is low, it is easier for you to get an infection.
Having a low white blood cell count is also called neutropenia (new-tro-pee-nee-ah).
What causes white blood cells to lower?
Many kinds of chemotherapy, some radiation therapy, and some cancers can lower your white blood cells (WBC). If your WBC drop, you may not get sick. Sometimes it lowers and then returns to a normal level without ever developing an infection. It is important to know that when your white blood cells drop, you need to protect yourself because there is a greater risk of developing an infection.
What are the risks of having low white blood cells?
When your WBC are low, you are not able to fight infections as well. Infections can make you very sick and may cause you to get a smaller dose of chemotherapy or even delay your next treatment.
What can I do to help protect myself from infections?
If you feel hot, have chills or sweats, take your temperature by mouth. If your temperature is at 38°C (100.4°F), call the Telephone Triage Nurse (TTN) or your family doctor right away. See "Who do I call for help" in this pamphlet for more information.
The following tips can help you protect yourself against infection:
Are there other methods for managing cancer-related neutropenia?
In some cases, your doctor may order a treatment that is given by injection or IV. This treatment uses special proteins that help the bone marrow make more white blood cells, red blood cells, or even platelets. Growth factors work like your body does when it is healthy and normal.
When do I call for help?
If you develop any signs or symptoms of infection, you need to seek medical attention right away. Some of the signs and symptoms of infection include:
Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. call the London Regional Cancer Program’s Telephone Triage Nurse (TTN) at 519-685-8600 (press option '3'). You can also contact your family doctor.
After hours, holidays and on weekends, call your Family Physician or go to your nearest Emergency Department.