- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Managing side effects
- Blood-related side effects
Blood-related side effects
New blood cells are constantly being made in the bone marrow (the spongy part in the centre of the bones). These rapidly dividing cells can be damaged by chemotherapy, and the number of blood cells (your blood count) will be reduced.
Learn more about:
- Main type of blood cells
- Having blood tests
- Taking care with infections during chemotherapy
- Bleeding problems
Main types of 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.
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.
If your red blood cell count drops below normal, this is called anaemia. A reduced amount of oxygen circulates through your body, which can make you feel tired, lethargic, dizzy or breathless. The tips for coping with fatigue may be helpful. To minimise dizziness, take your time when you get up from sitting or lying down.
Your treatment team will monitor your red blood cell levels. Let them know if you have any symptoms of anaemia during your course of chemotherapy. If the levels of red blood cells drop too low, you may need a blood transfusion to build them up again.
For more on this, see Fatigue and cancer.
Prof Timothy Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA; Graham Borgas, Consumer: Dr Joanna Dewar, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Professor, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Angela Kritikos, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Dietetic Department, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Kate Mahon, Director of Medical Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Marissa Ryan, Acting Consultant Pharmacist (Cancer Services), Pharmacy Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD.
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