Ovarian Cancer Treatment Side Effects
White blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets are made in the bone marrow -- a spongy material that's found in the center of many of the bones in the body. Chemotherapy damages the cells in bone marrow that make blood cells. As a result, you end up with fewer blood cells in your body during chemotherapy. When you have a lower-than-normal amount of blood cells, healthcare providers say you have "low blood cell counts."
Low blood cell counts can lead to several potentially serious problems, such as:
- Anemia: Red blood cells carry oxygen to the tissues and organs throughout your body. Without enough oxygen, the tissue and organs can't function normally. When your red blood cell count becomes too low, you have anemia. Anemia can make you very tired. You might become dizzy or have a difficult time concentrating or remembering things. You could also find that you get short of breath more easily.
- Increased risk for infections: White blood cells are important for fighting off infections. It makes sense that as the number of white blood cells in your body decreases, your risk for infection increases.
- Increased risk of bleeding and bruising: Platelets are the cells that form blood clots. These blood clots help stop bleeding. When your platelet levels are lower than normal, you may bleed or bruise more easily.
What Your Healthcare Provider Will Do
Your healthcare provider will monitor your blood cell counts during treatment. If they drop too low, your healthcare provider may recommend a change in your treatment schedule. You might need a lower chemotherapy dose. Or, you might have to wait longer between scheduled doses to give your blood cells enough time to recover.
Your healthcare provider may also treat you with blood cell growth factors, which are also called colony-stimulating factors or erythropoiesis-stimulating agents. These medicines stimulate the bone marrow to make more blood cells. Examples include:
- Medications that stimulate the production of red blood cells, including epoetin alfa (Epogen®, Procrit®) and darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp®)
- Medications that stimulate the production of white blood cells, including filgrastim (Neupogen®) and pegfilgrastim (Neulasta®)
- Medications that stimulate the production of platelets, including oprelvekin (Neumega®).
If your red blood cell or platelet counts become dangerously low, your healthcare provider may recommend a blood transfusion.
What You Can Do
As you already know, it's important to take care of yourself during your chemo treatment. To that end, there are several things you can do to help prevent problems from low blood cell counts during chemotherapy treatment. Following are some simple suggestions:
- If your red blood cell counts are low:
- Keep in mind that you're not going to have the same amount of energy, at least for now. Get plenty of rest. Take naps during the day if you need them.
- Now is the time to let others help you out. Ask family and friends to pitch in with cooking, running errands, or doing housework.
- A little light exercise may help your energy. Just don't push yourself too much, and nap when needed.
- Make sure you're eating a well-balanced diet to keep your body nourished, and drinking plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
- If you find yourself getting dizzy, get up slowly from a seated or lying-down position. Make sure you have something to hold onto so you're less likely to fall down.
- If your white blood cell counts are low:
- Wash your hands often during the day.
- Avoid being around people who have an infection, such as a cold or flu.
- Try to avoid crowds.
- Take care not to cut or scrape your skin, especially when you're using sharp objects, such as knives, scissors, or razors. If you do get a cut, clean the area thoroughly.
- If your platelet counts are low:
- Use a soft toothbrush to brush your teeth. Brush your gums gently.
- Use an electric shaver instead of a razor.
- Avoid activities that could result in injury, such as sports.
You can also read the following eMedTV articles to learn more about things you can do to manage low blood cell counts: