- What are infections and who is at risk?
- How your body normally resists infections
- Signs of infection people with cancer should watch for
- Why are people with cancer more likely to get infections?
- Immunosuppression and neutropenia
- Problems caused by the cancer
- Poor nutrition
- Cancer treatment and infection risk
- Neutropenia and risk of serious infection
- How does the doctor know what kind of infection a person with cancer has?
- What kinds of germs cause infections in people with cancer?
- What can people with cancer do to prevent infections?
- Get the right vaccines
- Take precautions
- Use prescribed medicines to prevent infections
- How is infection treated in people with cancer?
- To learn more
Neutropenia and risk of serious infection
Risk factors that mean infections could be serious
When your cancer treatment causes low white blood cell counts, you have a higher risk of getting an infection. When your absolute neutrophil count (ANC) is low, there are other risk factors that can make any infection you get more likely to become a serious one. For instance, fever is more likely to mean a serious infection if your ANC is low and you:
- Are in the hospital when your fever starts
- Have other serious illnesses
- Have cancer that is not controlled or is getting worse
- Have an ANC of 100 or less for a week or more
- Are age 60 or older
- Do not have normal liver and/or kidney function
- Have lung disease, like emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Can’t eat because of severe mouth sores
- Are dehydrated
- Have low blood pressure
- Are taking alemtuzumab (Campath®)
- Have signs that suggest pneumonia or another complex infection
The same person can have more than one of these risk factors, which can raise the risk of serious infection even higher. Serious infections will probably need to be treated in the hospital because they can be life-threatening. A person with neutropenia and a serious infection must be treated aggressively and followed up carefully.
Factors that might work in your favor
When your ANC is low, an infection is less likely to be serious if you:
- Have none of the high-risk factors listed above
- Are expected to be neutropenic for less than a week
- Are still able to do most of your daily activities for yourself
Last Medical Review: 12/06/2012
Last Revised: 12/06/2012