Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell whose primary role is to protect the body from infections and to heal damaged tissues, so they are an essential part of our immune system.
The number of neutrophils in the blood is known as the Absolute Neutrophil Count, or ANC, and is a measure of the number of neutrophils per cubic millimeter of blood – healthy adults have a count between 1,500 and 8,000. Sometimes these numbers are shown as 1.5 to 8, depending on the hospital. To convert between the two systems, just multiply (or divide) by 1000. ANC is typically measured during a CBC.
During treatment for leukemia, ANC is one of the most important numbers to watch. Different treatments can significant reduce the ANC, which leaves the patient more at risk of infection, and less able to recover. When ANC is low it is known as “neutropenia“, and a neutropenic patient may have to be hospitalized and placed on antibiotics to help prevent or fight infections that might be minor for healthier patients.
While neutropenic it is especially important to be aware of the risk of infection from other people. Avoiding densely packed public places, exposure to sick people, and practicing good hygiene such as hand sanitizing, and wearing masks are all common and effective practices to help protect neutropenic patients.