The bone marrow in our bodies is responsible for the creation of white blood cells, and while there are a few types of these white blood cells, as many as 70 percent of them are known as neutrophils, and the role of the neutrophil is to help the immune system fight infections and keep us healthy.
The condition of neutropenia, therefore, is defined as having an abnormally low count of neutrophils. While the levels can sometimes differ from one practice to another, for the purposes of this entry we will use the levels as given by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network in its clinical practice guideline in oncology for the prevention and treatment of cancer-related infections.
According to the NCCN guidelines, the condition of neutropenia is defined as:
< 500 neutrophils / mcL
< 1,000 neutrophils / mcL and a predicted decline to < 500 mcL over the next 48 hours.
(This definition is the same one that is used by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.)
Neutropenia, when accompanied by a fever (a condition known as febrile neutropenia) is a potentially life-threatening oncologic emergency, because the patient is not only open to opportunistic and potentially deadly infections, but they are also showing signs of such an infection, requiring immediate medical attention.
Sources and further reading
- Boyiadzis, Michael M. et al. Hematology-Oncology Therapy. 2007. New York: McGraw Hill, Medical Publishing Division.
- National Comprehensive Cancer Network Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Prevention and Treatment of Cancer-Related Infections.
- Mayo Clinic, Neutropenia
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