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Breast Cancer Treatment and Low White Blood Cell Counts

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Quick summary

White blood cells are the body's best defensive weapons in the fight against germs and disease, so when white blood cell counts drop as a result of breast cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, it puts the patient in a vulnerable position. Without adequate protection from these disease-fighting cells, viruses and bacteria suddenly become much more serious threats.

Why does chemotherapy make white blood cell count drop?

Think of chemotherapy as a smart bomb: It only targets certain types of cells, particularly those that grow and divide rapidly. That means it targets tumor cells, but it also means that white blood cells, which are produced in the bone marrow and have a rapid turnover rate, can be damaged as well. White blood cell counts, sometimes called leukocyte counts, drop with most chemo drugs. Neutrophils, which are a specific type of white blood cell, are the most potent disease fighters. The doctor may refer to a low white blood cell count as neutropenia, since a shortage of neutrophils is often what the doctor is most concerned about.