Learn about potential blood-related side effects of cancer treatment that may affect your child.
Bone marrow cells (soft tissue inside the bones) make blood cells that are released into the bloodstream when they are needed. Cells of the bone marrow can be injured by cancer cells, chemotherapy and radiation. This causes low blood counts, also referred to as bone marrow suppression.
Three important types of cells produced in the bone marrow are red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs) and platelets. The patient’s blood counts will be checked by the treatment team as often as necessary. Blood counts may reach their lowest point 5 to 14 days after chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy was given. Low counts or bone marrow suppression may cause treatment delays, therapy changes and unscheduled trips to the hospital.
RBCs contain hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood. When the hemoglobin is low, the patient is said to be anemic, and you may notice that the patient tires easily and looks pale. If the hemoglobin drops to a certain level, your doctor may order a red blood cell transfusion.
WBCs fight infections. When the WBC count is low, the patient has an increased chance of getting an infection. There are different kinds of white blood cells and it is the neutrophils (also known as granulocytes or polys) that fight bacteria. The absolute neutrophil count (ANC) will be calculated by the treatment team. When the ANC is low, the patient has a greater chance of getting a bacterial infection. When the treatment team informs you that the patient’s white blood cell counts are low, reporting of fever or infection is especially important. Learn more about preventing infection.
Platelets are needed for the blood to clot normally. When the patient’s platelet count is low (thrombocytopenia), he or she may bleed easily. Signs and symptoms of a low platelet count are:
When the platelet count drops below a certain level, your doctor may order a platelet transfusion.
When the treatment team informs you that you need to take special steps to protect the patient from injury, follow these guidelines:
If bleeding does occur while the platelet count is low, it may be hard to stop. The following guidelines may help you in specific situations:
Hold pressure with an ice pack over the area for at least 10 minutes without stopping and call the treatment team.