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Bone Marrow Suppression

Low Platelet Counts

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© American Cancer Society 2010


The medical term for a low platelet count is thrombocytopenia.

The normal range for platelet counts is between 150,000 and 450,000 per cubic millimeter (mm3), although this varies somewhat depending on the lab.

If your platelet count is low, you may:

  • Bruise easily
  • Bleed longer than usual after minor cuts or scrapes
  • Have bleeding gums or nose bleeds
  • Develop petechiae (small reddish-purple spots on your skin)
  • Have headaches
  • Have visible blood in your stool or urine
  • Have serious internal bleeding if the platelet count is very low

A low platelet count resulting from chemotherapy is temporary, but it can lead to serious blood loss. This, in turn, can damage internal organs.

Sometimes a low platelet count will delay necessary surgery because doctors are concerned about blood loss during surgery.

If platelet counts are very low (below 10,000) or if a person with moderately low counts is bleeding or bruising too easily, platelet transfusions may be given. Transfused platelets help for a few days and must often be repeated. Some people who have received many platelet transfusions can develop an immune reaction that destroys donor platelets.

A platelet growth factor called oprelvekin (Neumega®) is a drug that is sometimes given to people with severe thrombocytopenia. This can lower their need for platelet transfusions and can lessen the risk of bleeding. The drug is injected under the skin every day.

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