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Understanding Your Cancer Lab Test Results

When you have cancer than need understanding your cancer lab test results, it seems like someone is constantly drawing blood for some type of test. Blood tests are used to monitor how your body reacts to treatment. They can detect minor changes before problems get serious. Keeping track of your findings allows your doctor to take action as soon as your blood counts change, reducing the risk of numerous cancer-related problems and side effects from cancer therapy.

The complete blood count (CBC) and the chemistry panel are two of the most popular types of blood tests. They can tell the doctor about the health of the individual 

Some people find it beneficial to obtain a copy of their test findings and discuss the lab results with a member of their cancer care team. You may also see what the normal ranges for the lab that tested your blood are and where your values fall within that range by acquiring a copy.


The most common lab test that you’ll have done during treatment is called a complete blood count, or CBC. Blood is made up of water, proteins, nutrients, and living cells. A CBC tells your cancer care team about the cells in your blood. It measures three basic types of blood cells:

  • Red blood cells
  • White blood cells
  • Platelets

Each of these cells has a special purpose. And each can be harmed by cancer and cancer treatments.

Red blood cells:- Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body. A red blood cell count, also called an erythrocyte count, measures the number of red blood cells in a sample of blood. There are several ways to measure red blood cells. Two of the most common are:

  • Hematocrit (Hct), the percentage of your blood that is made up of red blood cells
  • Hemoglobin (Hgb), the amount of the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen

When the Hgb and Hct values fall too low, it’s called anemia.

Platelets:- Platelets help control bleeding. You may bruise or bleed easily when your platelet levels are low. The risk of bleeding goes up when platelet levels drop below 20,000.

When your platelet count is low, your health care team may call it thrombocytopenia.

White blood cells (WBCs):- WBCs fight infection. There are many types of white blood cells and each specially fights infection.

The most important infection-fighting WBC is the neutrophil. The number doctors look at is called your absolute neutrophil count (ANC). A healthy person has an ANC between 2,500 and 6,000.

The ANC is found by multiplying the WBC count by the percent of neutrophils in the blood. For instance, if the WBC count is 8,000 and 50% of the WBCs are neutrophils, the ANC is 4,000 (8,000 × 0.50 = 4,000).

When the ANC drops below 1,000 it is called neutropenia. Your doctor will watch your ANC closely because the risk of infection is much higher when the ANC is below 500.

CHEMISTRY PANEL (metabolic profile)

Another sort of blood test examines the chemistry of the blood. Chemistry panels are sometimes referred to as metabolic profiles or blood chemistry profiles.

One blood sample can be used to measure many things like:

  • Fats (lipids)
  • Proteins
  • Sugar (glucose)
  • Electrolytes (like potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium)
  • Enzymes

Certain blood chemistry tests can show how well your organs are working. For instance, liver function studies tell your doctor how well your liver is working. Other tests look at how well your kidneys are working. The chemistry panel may also show other problems with body function.

Some treatments can induce alterations in your blood chemistry, such as a decrease in potassium levels in your blood. Dehydration (not enough fluid in the body), which can be caused by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea, can also affect your blood chemistry balance. If your doctor suspects you have any of these issues, he or she will conduct blood chemistry tests.

If the tests show that certain electrolytes are too low, your doctor may decide to replace them. If the tests show you are dehydrated, you may be given intravenous (IV) fluids. It’s important to get the tests your doctor wants because most of the time you won’t have any symptoms until one or more blood chemistry values are dangerously low or high.


For complete blood counts and chemistry panel results, each lab has its range of what it considers normal. When looking at your results, it’s crucial to know what’s normal for your lab because what’s normal for one lab can not be normal for another. Normal ranges for various tests are also different depending on age and gender. The normal ranges are usually printed with your test findings on the lab report.

Common terms and numbers you may see on a CBC report and what they mean are on this chart:-

Note that results are often given in short form, as shown on this table. For instance, a WBC result may be shown as 6.2 rather than 6,200, which is why the Units column shows multiplying by 1000 (x 1000), sometimes abbreviated as K. RBCs are often shown as multiples of a million, sometimes abbreviated as M. The /mm3 stands for cubic millimeter, which is the same as µL (microliter). Grams are shown by the letter g, and dL means deciliter. These ranges are different for some other labs.

This is an example of CBC test results, in a person with anemia, or a low hemoglobin and hematocrit:-

These ranges are different among different labs.

Results that are high or low might have the letter (H) or (L) after the number, or may be printed to the side or in a different column to call attention to the abnormal result.

Again, getting a copy of your lab results lets you compare your numbers to the normal ranges and makes it easier to ask questions about the results and what they mean.

This basic will you can understanding your cancer lab test results.


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