Breast Cancer Patients: Managing Treatment for Low White Blood Cell Count
When a breast cancer patient's white blood cell count is low, her immune system isn't as strong as usual and she's at increased risk of infection, a condition known as neutropenia. The lower her white blood cell count is -- and the longer it stays low -- the higher the risk that she'll get sick or contract some type of infection. (Normal white blood cell counts range from 4,500 to 11,000 WBCs per cubic millimeter of blood. For more information, see Breast Cancer Treatment and Low White Blood Cell Counts.)
What signs should I watch for that indicate the white blood cell count is in the danger zone?
- Fever is often the first sign of infection, so keep an eye on body temperature. Call the doctor if body temperature climbs above 100 degrees.
- Other common -- and sometimes overlooked -- areas of potential infection are the bladder and gastrointestinal system, so watch for stomach cramps, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and urination problems.
- Beware of cuts and scratches, and always apply antibiotic ointment and keep them covered, no matter how small and harmless they seem.
- Make note of sore gums, mouth sores, or canker sores as these are common sites of infection. Remember, resistance isn't what it would normally be, making it hard for the body to fight off even normally harmless bacteria.
- A cough, sore throat, sneezing, or headache can indicate a sinus or lung infection, so call the doctor if any of these symptoms develop. If you or the person you're caring for develops a fever or infection while suffering from neutropenia, you may need to go to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics to allow the body to build up enough white blood cells to fight off the infection.