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What Is the Connection between Cancer and Neutropenia?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill

The primary relationship between cancer and neutropenia is the fact that certain cancers and cancer treatments can lead to this condition. Neutropenia refers to a condition in which neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, become depleted. This can lead to health complications, including serious infections. Many patients experience this condition during cancer treatment, and others with cancers which impact the bone marrow directly may develop it before treatment even begins.

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. Like all white blood cells, they help aid the body in fighting off infection by killing bacteria and other pathogens before they can cause disease. When these blood cells are in short supply, as in the case of a patient with cancer and neutropenia, infections can occur more rapidly.


Most patient don't realize they have neutropenia until a blood test reveals it, or until they begin suffering from infections. Many doctors will begin testing patients for the condition soon after cancer treatment begins to ensure that white blood cell levels begin to rise again once a round of treatment is over. Since those with cancer and neutropenia are at an increased risk of other complications, they must be closely monitored to help prevent and treat infections as soon as they occur.

Both cancer and neutropenia can be successfully treated and monitored. Although neutropenia typically goes away on its own once chemotherapy and other treatments have ended, patients are still checked closely to ensure that immune function returns to normal. In some cases, white blood cell stimulating medications may be needed. Those with cancers of the bone marrow, the part of the body in which neutrophils are developed, may experience more severe cases of the condition. Very young children and the elderly, or those with immune disorders, may be at an even higher risk of serious infection.

Neutropenia typically begins to develop soon after chemotherapy begins, and may progress over several days. Around two weeks after the initial treatment, the condition peaks and white blood cell levels are typically at their lowest. It is during this period that patients are most susceptible to infection and are often quarantined. White blood cell levels usually begin to rise shortly after this, and levels tend to return to normal before the next round of treatment begins.

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