Neutropenia: A Common Side Effect of Cancer

Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and an extremely important part of our immune system as they help our body to fight infection.

Neutropenia is a condition where a person has an abnormally low concentration of neutrophils.

People who have neutropenia have a higher risk of getting serious infections because they do not have enough neutrophils to fight off invading and harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Cancer patients who are receiving treatment can be at risk of neutropenia. Neutrophils are made in the bone marrow and cancer treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can affect a patient’s bone health thus impacting neutrophil production. Neutropenia is also a common side effect in people with leukemia and can also be caused by solid tumour malignancies if they infiltrate the bone marrow.

Neutropenia is diagnosed by a routine complete blood count (CBC).

Symptoms of Neutropenia

The following are common signs of neutropenia:

  • A fever
  • Chills or sweating
  • Sore throat, sores in the mouth
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pain near the anus
  • Pain or burning when urinating, or urinating often
  • A cough or shortness of breath
  • Any redness, swelling, or pain (especially around a cut, wound, or catheter)
  • Unusual vaginal discharge or itching

Allopathic Management of Neutropenia

The treatment of neutropenia depends on its cause and severity. In some cases cancer treatment may be suspended until neutrophil count rises to an adequate level.

Patients may be given medication to help bone marrow regenerate new neutrophils.

And in cases where a disease has caused the drop in neutrophils, treatment of the disease will occur.

How Can You Support Your Immune System If You Are At Risk of Neutropenia?

Eat a healthy diet

  • Protein is the building block for the immune system. Foods such as eggs, quinoa and

       lean white meat are good sources

  • Zinc is a strong immune booster. Foods rich in zinc include pumpkin seeds, shellfish and


  • Omega‐3 fatty acids increase phagocyte activity. Phagocytes are white blood cells that

        consume bacteria. Foods include flax seeds, wild caught salmon and chia seeds

  • Folate increases neutrophil count. Foods high in folate include leafy green vegetables,

        beans, and lentils.

  • Stay well hydrated drinking at least 8 glasses of water per day

Wash your hands frequently

Washing your hands helps to prevent the spread of germs to your nose, eyes and mouth.  All entry points to your body

Stay away from large groups

You are at greater risk of infection when your immune system is compromised.  During this time avoid large groups to help reduce your risk of coming in to contact with potentially harmful germs

Get lots of sleep

Proper sleep is a key piece of a healthy immune system.  Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night

Neutropenia can be serious.  Be aware of the symptoms and contact your doctor if you begin to experience any of them.


Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Chemotherapy, Radiation, Surgery Natural Strategies for Preparation & Dealing with Side Effects of Cancer Treatments by Cathy Biase BSc., RHN, CPCC


This Week on TheHealthHub…The Body Clock: Its Role in Basic & Clinical Cancer Research with Dr. Robert Burns


Dr. Burns is Professor in the Department  of Neurobiology & Developmental Sciences College of Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences received his BA from Hartwick College in New York in 1961 with a Major in Biology, his Masters from the University of Maine in 1963 and his Ph.D. from the Department of Anatomy, Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana in 1967 with a dissertation in experimental oncology and a minor in human pathology. Dr. Burns then completed a 1 yr  National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship in cancer research and human cancer pathology at the George Washington University in Washington DC, before joining the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

His career research interest is experimental oncology in mouse models focused on the best time in the host’s circadian rhythm to give anti-cancer chemotherapy drugs and produce less organ toxicity and more long-term cures, i.e. chronochemotherapy. He has 105 scientific publications, which played a role in mouse-based chronochemotherapy  eventually moving into successful human chronochemotherapy clinical trials by others.  His honors include: 1) a 5 yr Research Career Development Award from the National Cancer Institute in the 1970’s to train in chronobiology under the mentorship of Lawrence Scheving, Ph.D. a chronobiologist and former President of the International Society of Chronobiology, 2) Distinguished Alumnus, Hartwick College, 3) Lutterloh Professor of Medical Education Excellence, 4) Master Teacher and Chancellor’s Teaching Awards at UAMS. He also has publications in the areas of Medical Student Education and Professional Development in health science content for PreK- Grade 12 teachers and school nurses.

Learning Points:

  • What is Chrono Chemotherapy?
  • What is research suggesting about our body clocks and their possible impact on the timing of chemotherapy?
  • What is research suggesting about our body clocks and reducing toxicity of chemotherapy?

Listen live or catch the podcast on iTunes and SoundCloud!


Every Tuesday from 11am -12pm I host The Health Hub, an interactive, forward thinking talk show on Radio Maria Canada.   Call, tweet or email your questions as together we explore health issues that are relevant to you from new and innovative points of view.

TheHealthHub is now on iTunes!

Subscribe and don’t miss a single episode!



Follow us on Social Media

How To Listen Live

Visit our website and learn how to listen live to our show each week.

Let us know!

If you have a health topic that you would like us to discuss or are a health care specialist who wants to be a guest on our show let us know!

Here is our email.  We would love to hear from you!





Integrative Therapies: Adding Health to Your Cancer Care

Integrative Cancer Care is becoming more mainstream as we are understanding that the health of cancer patients needs to be tended to as well as the disease.  A well designed Integrative cancer care plan considers the whole person, mind, body and soul.  It addresses the patient’s nutritional needs before, during and post treatment.  It takes in to consideration lifestyle factors such as exercise and sleep patterns.  Environmental factors that can influence toxic load are discussed and modified where possible.  Attention to mindset and stress management is a key area that is often neglected but vital for patient outcome.

The study cited below examined an integrative approach for breast cancer patients:

“The integration of a 12-week CIM (Complimentary and Integrative Medicine) intervention in conventional supportive cancer care may reduce nausea and improve appetite in patients with breast/gynecological cancer undergoing chemotherapy.”

Effect of a 12-week integrative oncology intervention on gastro-intestinal concerns in patients with gynecological and breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy

Preparing patients for treatment and managing side effects is a key area of integrative care.  If we can strengthen a patient’s immune system before treatment and understand possible side effects of that treatment we can at the very least mitigate severity.

And a life long path of integrative preventative care is essential not only for each and every cancer patient but for all people as we hope to live a life of health and vitality.

Your Integrative Cancer Care needs to start today.



Fasting-like Diet Turns the Immune System Against Cancer

I read many studies and theories about nutrition and nutritional therapies within the realm of cancer care. Although I do try to keep an open mind to all that I read and base my opinions on the evidence presented, I must admit that I tend to favour those that resonate with me.  I do understand that this may put me under the umbrella of bias, but it allows me to be fully invested when my thoughts do align with solid research that I read. 

I have been follow the work of Professor Valter Longo for some time now.  I find his research to be both solid and promising.  He has researched and published findings on fasting, the immune system and increasing effectiveness of chemotherapy.

The study referenced below was published in 2016.  In it, Longo demonstrated (in mice) how implementation of a fasting-mimicking diet can stimulate the immune system of the mice and increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy in breast and skin cancer.

In speaking about his findings he stated:

“The mouse study on skin and breast cancers is the first study to show that a diet that mimics fasting may activate the immune system and expose the cancer cells to the immune system,” Longo said. “This could be a very inexpensive way to make a wide range of cancer cells more vulnerable to an attack by the immune cells while also making the cancer more sensitive to the chemotherapy.”

He further noted:

“It may be that by always being exposed to so much food, we are no longer taking advantage of natural protective systems which allow the body to kill cancer cells,” Longo said. “But by undergoing a fasting-mimicking diet, you are able to let the body use sophisticated mechanisms able to identify and destroy the bad but not good cells in a natural way.”

Below is the link to an article reporting Longo’s finding.

Fasting-like Diet Turns the Immune System Against Cancer