Blood Disorders

"If there were nothing wrong in the world, there wouldn't be anything for us to do." ~ George Bernard Shaw

What are they?

IV chemotherapy is transported by your blood throughout your body and has an impact on both your cancer cells and your healthy cells.  As a result, chemotherapy is scheduled in cycles in order for your blood work to recover sufficiently to be able tolerate the next treatment. Cycles can be weekly, bi-weekly, 21-day etc. depending on the drug protocol and patient response.

Blood tests are taken before every chemotherapy treatment cycle and usually within multi-infusion cycles in order to ensure that your blood counts are viable.   

Recovering from a chemo infusion is not always physically possible on your own, in the given timeframe.

There are three main blood disorders which may mitigate the decision to postpone treatment. These disorders can result in you being extremely susceptible to infection, easy bruising and bleeding, formation of life-threatening blood clots and other complications. These conditions  are called:

  1. Leukopenia or anemia - low red blood count
  2. Neutropenia - low white blood count
  3. Thrombocytopenia - low platelet count

These blood disorders can cause you to have an extremely compromised immune system.  Infection usually presents with a fever.  The most important rule for anyone receiving chemotherapy is to check your temperature frequently.   Go to your nearest hospital immediately with a fever over 38.3C or 100.5F.

Conventional Wisdom:

All three conditions can be resolved (or prevented it the patient’s insurance permits) today with prescription drugs or other means such as blood transfusions or by simply allowing the body more time to recover.  The bone marrow stimulating drugs used for neutropenia have their own list of side effects often including severe bone pain and flu-like symptoms.  In the case of allowing further time for natural blood count recovery, the urgency of adhering to a strict chemo cycle and its possible consequences should be evaluated.

Self Help:

All patients receiving chemotherapy go through periods of low blood counts called nadir.   Think of the chemo cycle as a wave.  The high point is just before you receive your treatment – when your blood cells are their healthiest.  The low point or nadir is when your blood counts are at their lowest.  Each chemo drug has its own general nadir – for example Drug A may take about 5 days from infusion to the nadir and Drug B may take 15-21 days.  Ask your oncologist when the nadir is expected.   It is extremely useful in planning your activities and being mindful of their consequences.

Extraordinary precautions should be taken during these low periods.   As a preventative measure, wipe down all public touchpoints in your home – telephones, door knobs, bathroom fixtures, computer keyboards etc. with a disinfectant wipe.  Carefully wash all raw vegetables if you are permitted to eat them – some oncologists frown on anything raw during chemo.  I even use a disinfectant wipe on all cans containing food.  Avoid crowds and public gatherings and make sure you ask if anyone has the flu or a cold before visiting.  Wash your hands frequently. Take care not to cut yourself.  Lightheadedness often accompanies low blood counts – exercise caution when bending down and be mindful of your condition before driving.

There is very little evidence to support any single herb, food or supplement helping bone marrow issues. However, overall good nutrition and supplementation for identified deficiencies definitely helps. It is quite normal to expect that vitamin and mineral deficiencies arise during chemo.

A number of nutrients have been studied which promote healthy blood. The addition of any of these items to your diet and their dosages are issues that must be discussed with and approved by your doctor. They include:

  1. Antioxidant Vitamins A, C and E - believed to diminish development of free radicals and thereby diminish platelet cell destruction
  2. Good balance of omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids - associated with prolonged platelet viability and diminished production of free radicals
  3. Melatonin - believed to support the production of blood platelets and neutrophils
  4. Astralagus, ginseng, selenium (found in Brazil nuts), vegetables containing beta carotene, are all said to be immune-enhancing supplements

Please refer to our Vitamins Etc. page for more information.

During known periods of low red blood or low white blood counts (nadir), one must take extra precautions in food handling, proper cooking and avoiding crowds. Once again, susceptibility to infection and disease is high during your chemo treatments. It is imperative that you get yourself to your local hospital with any fever over 38.3C or 100.5F.

ANY supplements or vitamins taken by you should be made known to your doctor. There are cases where they can interfere with or be contraindicated with certain chemotherapy and prescribed drugs.


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We strongly encourage you to talk with your health care professional about your specific medical condition and treatments. The information contained in this website is meant to be helpful and educational, but is not a substitute for medical advice.