Neutropenia (n): “granulocyte disorder characterized by an abnormally low number of neutrophils, the most important type of white blood cell“.(Wikipedia) White blood cell counts can be determined by a simple blood test.
Anyone undergoing cancer treatments will most likely experience some level of neutropenia at some point. You see, white blood cells help our bodies fight against infection. Cancer treatments often times lower the number of white blood cells in our bodies thus making it harder for our bodies to ward off infection.
Here’s the dealio (as my daughter always says)…
An infection in people with cancer is an emergency. In fact, infection can lead to hospitalization and even become life-threatening if not attended to so follow the advice below…
1. Call your doctor right away if you have a fever 100.4 or higher. This could be a sign of infection. Don’t automatically take tylenol or aspirin unless your doctor advises you to do so, as these meds can mask what’s really going on.
2. Find out from your doctor when your white blood cell count will be the lowest as this is when you are at greatest risk of infection. During this time, take precautions like avoiding crowds or people with colds; washing hands often; wearing protective gloves when handling raw meats, gardening or cleaning up after pets. Make sure that all food are properly handled, washed & thoroughly cooked. Our doctors even advised Alan to avoid raw vegetables during “his time of the month” as we called it. And we even asked our friends to stay away if they weren’t feeling well or have a cold.
3. If you have to go the emergency room, it’s important to tell the person checking you in that you have cancer and are receiving chemotherapy. If you have an infection, you should NOT sit in the waiting room for a long period of time with other sick people.
4. Look into acupuncture & tai chi… there is scientific data available that these modalities can have a help stimulate white blood counts. (thanks Darian, amazing naturopath at Cancer Treatment Centers of America for sharing this.)
Remember, an infection in people with cancer is an emergency. It’s best to avoid any situation that increases your risk of infection. Also know that if your treatment schedule has to be postponed by a few days because you are neutropenic, don’t worry. Talk to your doctor. I’ve always been told that a few days here or there won’t make a difference in the overall success of treatment.