|Low Platelet Count (Thrombocytopenia)|
|Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania|
| Last Modified: May 22, 2009
Thrombocytopenia is a low level of platelets. Radiation therapy and certain chemotherapy medications can damage platelets and lead to thrombocytopenia. Patients receiving a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy are at greater risk for thrombocytopenia.
Platelets play an important role in blood clotting, so thrombocytopenia puts you at higher risk of bleeding. Therefore, while you are receiving therapy, use caution to avoid any activities that could result in bleeding. Even the most minor of injuries, such as a small cut or bump, can result in excessive bleeding when your platelets are low.
A normal platelet counts ranges from 150,000 - 400,000 per mm3 of blood. While receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy, your platelet count may drop. Your platelet count will be checked throughout the course of your treatments. Any time your platelet count drops below 50,000 per mm3 you are considered to be at increased risk for bleeding. If your platelet count drops below 10,000 per mm3, you may require a transfusion of platelets.
What Can I Do To Prevent Bleeding?
Since platelets are destroyed as a side effect of radiation therapy and chemotherapy, there is nothing specifically that you can do to prevent thrombocytopenia from occurring. Nonetheless, there are several things that you can do to reduce your risk of injury when your platelets are low:
Taking prompt action at the first signs of a low platelet count is essential as it may help to prevent a bleeding episode. The signs and symptoms of a low platelet count include:
Perform daily personal hygiene in ways that minimize the risk of bleeding.
Take these other general precautions:
Adjust your lifestyle to minimize the risk of bleeding.
What if I Start to Bleed?
Even if you have taken special precautions to decrease the chance of injury and bleeding, it is still possible that bleeding will occur. If bleeding occurs, apply firm pressure for 5 minutes to the area. If bleeding does not stop after 5 minutes, continue to apply pressure until it has stopped completely.
If you have a nosebleed, apply pressure with your fingers below the bridge of your nose until the bleeding stops. Keep your head raised.
When Should I Call My Doctor?
Call your doctor immediately if you have any one or more of the following:
If you have a major injury or start spontaneously bleeding, go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency room. Make sure you inform the doctor that you are receiving cancer therapy and that your platelet count may be low.
How is Thrombocytopenia Treated?
If your platelet count drops to a point that your oncologist is concerned about significant risk of bleeding, they may order transfusions of platelets. These transfusions are most often done in an outpatient treatment center. Unless other problems exist, patients rarely are admitted to the hospital just to receive platelet transfusions.
If necessary, your oncologist may decide to delay further treatments until your platelet count has returned to normal levels.