What is Neutropenia?
Neutropenia is an abnormally low level of neutrophils. Neutrophils are a common type of white blood cell important to fighting off infections — particularly those caused by bacteria.
Neutrophils fight infection by destroying organisms that cause infection. These include harmful bacteria and fungi or yeast. This means that people with neutropenia have a higher risk of developing serious infections. People with very low levels of neutrophils or neutropenia that lasts a long time may be more likely to develop infections.
Signs & symptoms
Neutropenia occurs in about half of people with cancer who receive chemotherapy. And, it is a common side effect in people with a certain type of cancer called leukemia.
For adults, counts of less than 1,500 neutrophils per microliter of blood are considered to be neutropenia. For children, the cell count indicating neutropenia varies with age.
Some people with neutropenia will feel fatigue. However, neutropenia may not cause any symptoms. Patients usually find out they have neutropenia from a blood test. Or when an infection develops. As a result, your doctor will schedule regular blood tests. These can diagnose neutropenia and other blood-related side effects of chemotherapy.
Treatment of neutropenia is based upon the underlying cause, severity, and the presence of associated infections or symptoms. Treatments that directly address neutropenia may include:
- Antibiotic and/or antifungal medications to help fight infections
- Administration of white blood cells growth factors (such as recombinant granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF, filgrastim (Neupogen); sargramostim (Leukine)
- A granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), or pegfilgrastim (Neulasta), a long-acting form of filgrastim, in some cases of severe neutropenia