When your neutrophils are low, you have less ability to fight infections. Infections can make you very sick and may cause you to miss your next treatment. Sometimes you might need a lower dose of chemotherapy.
It is important to take steps to prevent infection or to catch an infection early if it is developing.
It is very important for your doctor and nurses to monitor the number of neutrophils that you have available to fight an infection. You may hear your nurse or doctor discussing your "counts". They are talking about the number of different cells you have, including:
- White blood cells (some of these are neutrophils): cells that fight infection
- Red blood cells: cells in your body that carry oxygen to the organs and tissues of your body
- Platelets (plate-lets): cells in your body that help your blood to clot. Cancer treatment can make the level of your platelets drop. This is called thrombocytopenia (throm-bow-sigh-toe-pee-nee-ah)
A blood test will show your cell count. One of these tests is called a Complete Blood Count (CBC). A CBC is monitored at different times before and during your chemotherapy treatments.
Cancer treatment can make the levels of all three types of cells drop in your body:
- When white blood cells (called leukocytes) drop, it is called leukopenia (lu-ko-pe-neeah)
- When red blood cells are low, it is called anemia (a-nee-mee-ah)
Managing Cancer Related Neutropenia: Hematopoietic Growth Factors (Growth Factors)
"Growth factors" are a medication that is given either as a shot or into a vein through an IV. Growth factors are special proteins that can cause the bone marrow to create more white blood cells, red blood cells or even platelets. They work like your own body does when it is healthy and normal. They are used to prevent neutropenia after certain kinds of chemotherapy. They can also be used to prepare patients for stem cell transplants.
Examples of growth factors for white blood cells are G-CSF (granulocyte colony stimulating factor), GM-CSF (granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor) and IL3 (interleukin 3). They are used only when necessary. They are not used for all patients. There are different drugs and your doctor or nurses will determine what is best for you.
Side Effects of Growth Factors
Side effects often vary from one person to another. The most common side effect of growth factors, used to increase white blood cells, is bone pain. This may be a dull ache or discomfort in the bones of the back, arms, legs or hips. This can often be relieved with acetaminophen (Tylenol). The pain or discomfort is usually mild and goes away once the injection or injections are completed. Sometimes the skin around the injection site can become red or itchy. This will disappear when the injections are finished. Fever and chills can happen sometimes with some growth factors. You will need to tell your doctor or nurse if you experience any side effects.