White Blood Cells

White blood cells during cancer.

  • Chemotherapy targets fast-dividing cancer cells, but also targets other fast-dividing cells, including the ones in your bone marrow that maintains the level of White Blood Cells in your blood.
  • Blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, also lower the WBC count when the cancer cells replace the healthy blood-forming cells in the bone marrow.
  • This lowering of WBC levels weakens the immune system, meaning that cancer patients must avoid any possible source of infection, like they didn't already have enough to worry about.
  • To prevent WBC levels falling too low during treatment, levels are tested regularly during chemotherapy.
  • White blood cell counts are measured in Total Leukocyte Counts.
  • More accurate measurements can be used with the Absolute Neutrophil Counts, because the neutrophils are the primary defense against infection. That means that the ANC is a very good indicator of how good the body can control infection.
  • If white blood cell counts drop too low during treatment, they may stop treatments and begin medications to prevent or treat infections.
  • Radiation therapy can also cause low white blood cell counts, especially if administered to the pelvis, legs, or torso, because those are the areas with the most bone marrow.

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