Bone Marrow Suppression and Chemotherapy
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Bone Marrow Suppression and Chemotherapy

The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the type of chemotherapy and the amount given. Anticipating and managing side effects can help to minimize them and provide the best possible experience for the person receiving chemotherapy.

What is bone marrow suppression?

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his or her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team the possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Nearly all chemotherapy agents suppress the bone marrow which, in turn, causes a reduction in the number of blood cells. The timing of this reduction varies according to which agents and doses are used for your treatment. Red blood cells carry oxygen, white blood cells fight infection, and platelets help to control bleeding and bruising. Thus, the risks for anemia, fatigue, infection, bleeding, and bruising are increased with bone marrow suppression.

What are the symptoms of bone marrow suppression?

The following are the most common symptoms of bone marrow suppression. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Symptoms of a low red blood cell count may include:

  • Fatigue

  • Paleness of skin, lips, and nail beds

  • Increased heart rate

  • Easy tiring with exertion

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

Symptoms of a low white blood cell count only occur if an infection ensues due to the low count, and may include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Mucositis (mouth sores) 

  • Rash

  • Diarrhea

  • Swelling

  • Redness

  • An area that is warm to touch

Symptoms of a low platelet count may include:

  • Easy bruising

  • Bleeding: nosebleeds, gums, or mouth

  • Tiny red spots on the skin

  • Blood in the urine

  • Dark or black bowel movements

The symptoms of bone marrow suppression may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 8/25/2013
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