Low blood cell counts: Side effect of cancer treatment
It's very important to be vigilant for low blood cell counts during cancer treatment. Know what your doctor is looking for and what you should be watching for, too.
By Mayo Clinic staff
Your doctor may monitor your blood cell counts carefully during your cancer treatment. There's a good reason you're having your blood drawn so often low blood cell counts put you at risk of serious complications.
What's measured in a blood cell count?
When checking your blood cell count, your doctor is looking at the numbers and types of:
- White blood cells. These cells help your body fight infection. A low white blood cell count (leukopenia) leaves your body more open to infection. And if an infection does develop, your body may be unable to fight it off.
- Red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. Your red blood cells' ability to carry oxygen is measured by the amount of hemoglobin in your blood. If your level of hemoglobin is low, you're anemic and your body works much harder to supply oxygen to your tissues. This can make you feel fatigued and short of breath.
- Platelets. Platelets help your blood clot. A low platelet count (thrombocytopenia) means your body can't stop itself from bleeding.
If you're undergoing certain cancer treatments that could cause low blood cell counts, your doctor will likely monitor your blood cell counts regularly using a test called a complete blood count (CBC). Low blood cell counts are detected by examining a blood sample taken from a vein in your arm. "