During your blood cancer journey, your hematologist/oncologist may require that you complete blood tests throughout your treatment. What are these tests and why are they important? Your questions answered here.
What are these lab tests?
Blood tests are conducted throughout a patient’s treatment to monitor the number of cells in a patient’s blood and whether or not these cells are functioning properly. Your hematologist will typically order a complete blood count (CBC). Your physician may also do tests to analyze the mineral levels in your blood (such as calcium and potassium) because they are important in how your body functions.
Why are my blood counts important?
Each type of cell in your blood – white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets – has a function. Blood cancer treatment can affect the number of each type of cell, which can affect key functions such as blood clotting and preventing infection. Monitoring these counts allows your care team to make adjustments to your treatment plan to keep you as strong and healthy as possible.
Why are complete blood counts necessary?
A complete blood count analyzes several components so your care team can understand every aspect of your disease and manage side effects throughout your blood cancer journey.
What do my blood counts mean?
- White blood cells are used to fight infections. If these counts are low, you will be more susceptible to infection.
- Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. Low red blood cell counts can cause symptoms of anemia.
- Platelets are used to help your blood clot. With low platelet counts, you may bruise easily, or bleed easily and excessively, which can be life-threatening.
How does treatment affect my blood counts?
Chemotherapy affects your white blood cell, red blood cell and platelet counts. If your white blood cell counts are low, you may be given a growth factor (proteins that help the body produce white blood cells). If your red blood cells or platelet counts are low, you may be given a blood and/or platelet transfusion, which uses donated blood to replace these cells.
What symptoms should I look for?
Common symptoms of low blood counts during treatment include fever, shortness of breath, activity intolerance, bruising, bleeding and fatigue. Talk to your hematologist and care team about any symptoms that you experience immediately, so they can make any necessary adjustments to your treatment.
How often will I need blood work?
Your physician will determine how often you need blood work based upon where you are in your treatment cycle, how often your blood will be tested. Sometimes, you may come in for lab work only and not have a full doctor visit. Your care team will track your blood count against your previous counts and versus the normal range. When your counts fall below the normal range, your doctors will take action to get your counts to a healthier range.
If you have additional questions about blood cancer, you can talk to a nurse through askSARAH.