A new Chinese study has reported that women who develop a low white blood cell count (neutropenia) as a result of chemotherapy have better survival outcomes than women who do not. Apparently, chemotherapy-induced neutropenia (which is characterized by a decrease in circulating neutrophils) is a marker of treatment effectiveness. Neutropenia is one of the most important short-term side effects of chemotherapy and is often the reason for chemotherapy dose reduction. To conduct the study, the authors reviewed data from 335 early breast cancer patients in their hospital. All of the women had been treated with six cycles of CEF (cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), epirubicin (Ellence, an anthracycline), and fluorouracil (5-FU)).

The association between chemotherapy-induced neutropenia and overall survival was assessed by the authors. Women with mild or severe neutropenia were significantly less likely to die during the study period than those without neutropenia. The authors conclude that neutropenia occurring in early breast cancer patients is an independent predictor of increased survival; neutropenia in patients who receive chemotherapy is strongly associated with a better prognosis.