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At our National Cancer Information Center trained Cancer Information Specialists can answer questions 24 hours a day, every day of the year to empower you with accurate, up-to-date information to help you make educated health decisions. We connect patients, caregivers, and family members with valuable services and resources.
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Platelets are blood cells called thrombocytes and help your blood clot, so you stop bleeding. Low platelet count is also called thrombocytopenia. When your platelet levels are lower than normal, your blood isn’t able to clot as it should, putting you at a higher risk for excessive bleeding. The lower your platelet count, the higher your risk for bleeding. Your doctor will tell you what level is considered a low platelet count. If you have a very low platelet count, sometimes your doctor will delay your treatment or reduce your dose. Your doctor will use a blood test called a complete blood count (CBC) to measure your platelet level
Your platelet count may be low if the body is not making enough platelets, losing platelets, or platelets are being destroyed. In patients with cancer, low platelet count may be caused by:
If your platelet levels drop, you may begin to notice one or more of these symptoms
Call your cancer care team right away if you notice any of these symptoms.
A platelet transfusion might be needed in some patients with cancer who have a low platelet count. Platelets may be given to prevent bleeding when the platelet count is very low, or they may be given if a patient has some unusual bleeding to help stop it.
Before platelets are given, the donor is carefully matched to the patient and the platelets are screened so they are safe. But, receiving a platelet transfusion has some risks:
Talk to your doctor about whether you have a risk for a low platelet count, and what options might be best for your situation.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Balducci L, Shah B, Zuckerman K. Neutropenia and thrombocytopenia. In DeVita VT, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2019:2075-2076
Cancer.Net. 2018. Low platelet count or thrombocytopenia. Accessed at https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/low-platelet-count-or-thrombocytopenia on September 17, 2019.
Choe JH, Crawford J. Hematologic problems and infections: Disorders of blood cell production in clinical oncology. In Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Kastan MB, Doroshow JH, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:521-522
Izak M, Bussel JB. Management of thrombocytopenia. F1000Prime Reports. 2014; 6(45): P6-45
Schiffer CA, Bohlke K, Delaney M, Hume H, Magdalinski AJ, McCullough JJ, Omel JL, Rainey JM, Rebulla P, Rowley SD, Troner MB, Anderson KC. Platelet transfusion for patients with cancer: American Society of Clinical Oncology Clinical Practice Guideline Update. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2018; 36(3):283-299
Wilson BJ. Myelosuppression. In Olsen MM, LeFebvre KB, Brassil KJ, eds. Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy Guidelines and Recommendations for Practice. Pittsburgh, PA: Oncology Nursing Society; 2019: 273-292.
Last Revised: December 15, 2020
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