Guide to Blood Counts

Author: OncoLink Team
Content Contributor: Allyson Distel, MPH
Last Reviewed: January 22, 2024

Cancer therapy (including radiation and chemotherapy) not only kills cancer cells but can also affect healthy cells in your body. Blood cells are often affected by cancer therapy. This can lead to problems and symptoms, based on what that blood cell does.

Use the blood count chart to follow your blood counts after treatment. This will help you know when extra precautions are needed. “Normal” blood counts depend on your health and what your team’s guidelines are.

White blood cells (WBC): These cells are made in the bone marrow and are a part of the body's immune system, helping to fight infection. A normal WBC count is around 4,500-11,000 in adults.

Neutrophil: A type of WBC. It is the most important WBC in fighting infection, so you are at a higher risk of infection when this number is below 1,000. A normal count (sometimes called an Absolute Neutrophil Count, or ANC) is 2,500-7,000. A count below 1,000 is called neutropenia. When this count is low, wash your hands often, avoid large crowds of people or those who are sick, and check your temperature at least twice a day. Notify your healthcare team if you have a temperature greater than 100.4°F (38.0°C), a sore throat or cold, or a sore/wound that does not heal.

Hemoglobin: The part of a red blood cell that carries oxygen to the tissues. Normal levels for an adult female are around 12-16 and 14-18 for an adult male. Low hemoglobin can make you feel tired. If you have trouble breathing or pain in your chest, you should tell your healthcare team. If your count becomes too low or you have breathing trouble or chest pressure, you may get a blood transfusion.

Platelet: A blood cell that helps with blood clotting. When this count is below 50,000 you are at higher risk of bleeding. The risk of bleeding increases as the count becomes lower. A normal count is around 150,000-450,000 in an adult. When your platelet count is low you should not use a razor (you can use an electric razor), do not play any contact sports, or take aspirin or ibuprofen products (these can also increase the risk of bleeding). Let your care team know if you have any bleeding, such as nose bleeds or bleeding gums. You should also let them know if you have petechiae, which are little red dots on your skin that can look like a rash. If your count becomes too low or if you have bleeding, you may get a platelet transfusion.

Guide to Blood Counts

You can use the graph below to record the days you had chemotherapy, biotherapy, or radiation therapy and any types of blood transfusions you may have had.



Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Understanding Blood Counts. 

Mayo Clinic. Complete Blood Count. 2023. 

National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Anemia and Neutropenia: Low Red and White Blood Cell Counts. 2021. 

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