Neutropenia is an abnormal decrease in white blood cells most often resulting from a viral infection or exposure to certain drugs or chemicals. The normal body contains between 2500 and 6000 cells per cubic millimeter. If the Absolute Neutrophil Count is 1000 or less, it is considered to be neutropenic. A patient with ANC less than 500 cells per cubic millimeters is considered a severe neutropenic at great risk of developing infections.
For many breast cancer patients, chemotherapy is administered with or without breast surgery or other treatments to kill cancerous cells. Because chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, the drugs travel throughout the body and aim for cancer cells with a high rate of reproduction. Most blood cell including neutrophils are also destroyed during treatment, resulting in neutropenia. Up to 33 % of cancer patients who receive chemotherapy become neutropenic.
Patients with neutropenia tend to develop infections easily. Most infections occur in the lungs, mouth, throat, sinuses and skin. Some patients experience painful mouth ulcers, gum infections, ear infections, periodontal disease (disease of the tissues surrounding the teeth) or infections of the urinary tract, colon, rectum, or reproductive tract.
In case you have high grade fever (above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit) while undergoing chemotherapy, you should consult with your doctor immediately to avoid potentially life-threatening effects of neutropenia.
Treatment with antibiotics and granulocyte colony stimulating factors (Eg. sargramostim, filgrastim) which stimulate the growth of neutrophils, may be essential in such case.
In the mean time, you should avoid - contact with people having colds, other infections, injury to the skin, Immunisation shots, medications without a doctors prescription, cutting fingernails and other skin cuts.
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