Cancer patients warned of life threatening treatment complication


A campaign has been launched to warn patients with cancer about the dangers of a potentially life threatening condition that can occur as a complication of chemotherapy treatment.

Neutropenic Sepsis (NS) happens when chemotherapy temporarily lowers the type of white blood cells that help fight infection.

Sepsis can happen at any time during chemotherapy but is most likely to occur between seven and 14 days after treatment.

This means that minor infections can become very serious and could even become life threatening within hours.

Symptoms include: a high temperature, a sore throat and diarrhoea or simply feeling unwell.

It is estimated that, on average, each emergency department in England will see three to four confirmed cases of neutropenic sepsis every week – and potentially twice as many with suspected NS.

The campaign, being run by Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group and The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust, aims to make patients more aware of the condition.

This includes information on signs and symptoms, what to do if people suspect they have NS, and advice about how people can help themselves to stay well during treatment.

It features an eye catching video that highlights the most important information in an easy to understand format that will be shown in GP surgeries, hospital waiting rooms and shared online.


Kathryn Green, patient

One patient, Kathryn Green, understands more than most the importance of raising the profile of NS.

A dental nurse from Liverpool, Kathryn was diagnosed in April 2016 and developed the condition on several occasions during her treatment for leukaemia.

She said: “The first time it happened I had come home after treatment and I was in bed. I just didn’t feel right.

“I was freezing and shivering but my body was so hot and I was sweating, all classic signs of fever.

“I just thought I could sleep it off but when I woke up I felt worse. My mum immediately took my temperature and it was 38C.

“We called the hospital and I was advised to go to Accident and Emergency.

“It was quite frightening but my mum knew I had to get to the hospital as soon as we realised how high my temperature was.”

Kathryn was admitted to The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre’s haemato-oncology ward in Liverpool where she was treated with antibiotics and was rehydrated. She was discharged a week later.

She went on to develop NS a further four times during treatment and became very aware of when she needed to seek help.

Kathryn added: “I would advise anyone in my situation to be very aware of the risks and to take their temperature straight away if they suspect it is happening, and speak to the hospital and get advice.”


Dr Ernie Marshall, consultant oncologist

Neutrophils are a special type of white blood cell which normally help fight infection.

Chemotherapy can temporarily lower the number of neutrophils and cause the body to have lowered immunity, making it harder to fight infection.

Sepsis is a type of severe infection that used to be known as septicaemia. It can happen quickly and become life threatening or severe.

Dr Ernie Marshall, consultant oncologist at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, said: “Risk of NS depends on many things such as the type of chemotherapy, the age of patient and general wellbeing as well of type and stages of cancer.

“The good news is that if found early, NS is very treatable. Not all patients will need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.

“The main thing is to be vigilant, and not to just dismiss worrying symptoms as par for the course. If in any doubt, call the hotline.”

It’s vital patients understand their risk and know to call The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre hotline on 0800 169 5555 if they suspect they are affected.

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre is one of the UK’s leading cancer centres, treating more than 28,000 patients each year with solid tumours and blood cancer.

Combining world-class clinical services, research and academic excellence, it is one of the UK’s leading providers of non-surgical cancer treatment.


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