Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors

"Is a low complete blood count an effect of having cancer?"

ZocdocAnswersIs a low complete blood count an effect of having cancer?


I am a 42 year old male with cancer. Could this cause me to have a low complete blood ocunt?


A complete blood count is actually a panel of the counts of several blood cells, typically including at least the counts of white blood cells and platelets, along with the hemoglobin and hematocrit (which are surrogate measurements of the red blood cell mass). People with cancer are at risk for low counts of any of the cells measured for several reasons. Some chemotherapy regimens prescribed to people with cancer have effects on the blood cells. Because blood cells proliferate rapidly, similar to cancer cells (which do so in an uncontrolled fashion), many of the chemotherapy agents that interfere with the ability of cancer cells to divide rapidly also interfere with the body's ability to produce sufficient amounts of blood cells. Because cancer is a severe sometimes chronic disease, people with cancer are susceptible to anemia either from iron deficiency or from the chronic inflammatory state induced by the body fighting cancer. Some cancers of the white blood cells or bone marrow like leukemia and lymphoma can in and of themselves cause derangements in the white blood cell count, with either abnormally high or abnormally low white blood cell counts. Low blood counts can be caused by other problems such as bleeding or as a side effect of certain drugs, but in a person with cancer low blood counts are often due to the cancer itself or has occurred as a secondary effect of the cancer treatment. Low blood counts are a potentially serious problem, leading to overwhelming infection, problems carrying oxygen to the tissues (which can lead to heart attacks, changes in mental status, etc.), and excessive bleeding, depending on what cell type is affected. I cannot urge you strongly enough to seek consultation in person with an appropriate specialist such as a hematologist, oncologist, or primary care doctor. Only one of these professionals can fully evaluate this problem and recommend the appropriate treatment.

Zocdoc Answers is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.