Low blood cell counts: Side effect of cancer treatment


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:

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.

What's being counted What's normal What's low
White blood cells (WBC) 5,000-10,000 Below normal, especially below 1,000
Hemoglobin 14.5-18 for men
12-16 for women
Below 10
Platelets 150,000-450,000 Below 50,000


What causes low blood cell counts?

Cancer-related causes of low blood cell counts include:


Why is it important to monitor your blood cell counts?

Low blood cell counts can lead to serious complications that may delay your next round of treatment. Monitoring your blood counts allows your doctor to prevent or reduce your risk of complications.

The most serious complications of low blood cell counts include:


How can you tell if you have low blood cell counts?

Unless your blood cell counts are very low, you probably won't experience any signs or symptoms and you won't be able to tell that your blood counts are down. That's why your doctor may order frequent blood tests to follow your blood cell counts.

Ask your doctor whether your cancer treatment is likely to cause low blood cell counts and what signs and symptoms you should be looking for. If you notice any signs or symptoms of low blood cell counts, tell your doctor right away.

Condition What to look for
Low white blood cell count Fever higher than 101 F
Low red blood cell count Fatigue
Chest pain
Racing heartbeat
Shortness of breath
Low platelet count Bleeding
Easy bruising
Heavy menstrual bleeding


How are low blood cell counts treated?

If you have low blood cell counts, your treatment will depend on which counts are low and what's causing the low numbers. Common treatments include:

The type of treatment you receive will depend on your cancer treatment and your physical condition.


How can you cope with low blood cell counts?

Take steps to keep your body healthy when you have low blood cell counts. For example:

Talk to your health care team about other ways you can cope with low blood cell counts.


For more information on cancer visit The Mayo Clinic website



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