The Serious Side to Chemotherapy

Chemo can trigger blood cell shortages, and that can lead to anemia, infection or bleeding that can leave you feeling weak. Chemo's effect on blood cells is temporary, but it's important to stay vigilant so serious problems can be dealt with quickly.


If your red blood cell count dips too low, the result is anemia, which robs tissues of oxygen and can lead to fatigue, dizziness, breathlessness, foggy thinking and cold intolerance.

What you can do: Tell your doctor about your symptoms. A blood test will determine the next step: a drug to boost red blood cell production or a transfusion. Remember a healthy diet is an important part of maintaining healthy blood counts.


If your white blood cell levels drop too low (a condition known as neutropenia), your immune system won't be able to mount an effective attack against germs. Signs to watch for: a fever above 100.5ºF, chills, a sore throat, diarrhea, or pain or burning when you urinate.

What you can do: Get your flu shot before starting chemo, wash your hands frequently and stay out of crowds. Avoid shared "party" snacks from bowls or plates. Contact your doctor immediately if symptoms occur. Medications that boost white blood cell count can help.


A low platelet count (called thrombocytopenia) sometimes requires putting treatment on hold. Without adequate platelets, your blood can't clot properly. Signs of trouble include easy bruising or nosebleeds, bleeding gums, and/or small red or purple dots on your skin or mucous membranes.

What you can do: Report troubling symptoms to your doctor. Protect yourself from bleeding by shaving with an electric razor and using a soft bristle toothbrush. In serious situations, your doctor may order a transfusion to add platelets to your blood.

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