blood cells

Understanding Bone Marrow Suppression During Cancer Treatment

Blood disorders are a common side effect of breast cancer treatment. These are often caused by bone marrow suppression, which happens when the marrow doesn’t make the normal amount of blood cells.

Chemotherapy, radiation, and major surgery can damage tissues in bone marrow so that it doesn’t work properly. Your doctor may notice a drop in blood cell counts about a week after treatment. While it’s a side-effect of treatment itself, suppression of bone marrow can lead to a new set of side effects that may need to be monitored by your doctor.

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Types of Bone Marrow Suppression

Bone marrow makes white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. There are three types of disorders caused by bone marrow suppression depending on what blood cells are affected.

Anemia

Anemia occurs when red blood cells are low.

Anemia symptoms

Symptoms of anemia include:

Leukopenia/neutropenia

This happens when your white blood cells are low. White blood cells help your body fight off diseases. Leukopenia doesn’t cause many noticeable side effects, but it means you will be at higher risk of developing an infection. Your doctor can detect leukopenia through blood tests during and after treatment.

Thrombocytopenia

Thrombocytopenia is when your platelet count is low. If you have this disorder, you will likely notice that you bruise easier, bleed easier, have tiny red spots on your skin, or have blood in your urine.

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Managing Bone Marrow Suppression

Your doctor will perform a blood test to determine which type of blood cell is affected and develop a specific treatment plan based on the severity.

In cases of extremely low cell counts, you may need medication or a blood transfusion. Other times, you may be able to manage the blood disorder by taking extra precautions during chemotherapy treatment and in the weeks after:

Bone marrow suppression occurs during treatment or for a short time after and is not an ongoing problem. By following your doctor’s advice, you should be able to manage any side effects from blood disorders until your body is producing cells properly again.

If you or a loved one are currently undergoing treatment for cancer, you may have questions about side effects as a result of treatment. Visit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center online to read more or make an appointment with an expert.