- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Managing chemotherapy side effects
- How chemotherapy affects the blood
How chemotherapy affects the blood
Blood cells are made in the bone marrow, which is the spongy part in the centre of the bones.
Learn more about:
- How chemotherapy affects blood cells
- Having blood tests
- Taking care with infections during chemotherapy
- Bleeding problems
How chemotherapy affects blood cells
The bone marrow makes three main types of blood cells, which have specific functions:
- red blood cells – carry oxygen around the body
- white blood cells – fight infection
- platelets – help blood to clot and prevent bruising.
Because the new blood cells are rapidly dividing, they can be damaged by chemotherapy, and the number of blood cells (your blood count) will be reduced. Low numbers of blood cells may cause anaemia, infections or bleeding problems.
Having blood tests
You will have blood tests at the beginning of treatment and before each chemotherapy cycle to check that your blood count is adequate before you have chemotherapy. If your blood count has not recovered, your doctor may delay treatment.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Clinical A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Stacey Burton, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Andrew Greig, Consumer; Steve Higgs, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment