Infection caused by low white blood cell count, also called neutropenia, is one of the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Your bone marrow makes several kinds of white blood cells; one kind, called neutrophils, fights infections. A healthy neutrophil count is 1,500-7,500/mm3. A very low neutrophil count (1,000/mm3 or less) leaves you at risk for infection. If your white blood cell count gets too low, your physician may delay or reduce your chemotherapy.
"Febrile neutropenia"-having a fever when you have a low white blood cell count-frequently is a sign of infection. Report any fever to your physician or other professional caregiver immediately.
When your white blood cell count is low, take extra precautions in being around people. We discuss this on the following pages.
NOTE: If you need to go to the emergency room for any reason, immediately tell the triage nurse and the person at the registration desk that you are a patient with cancer with a potentially low white blood cell count. You need to be separated from everyone else in the waiting room.