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Understanding Lab Results

One of the most important actions you can take in managing your cancer care is to understand and track your laboratory and test results. Knowing what each result means and when and why it changes is essential to taking an active role in your treatment. Be sure to talk openly with your care team about what your results mean.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

The following is a brief overview of the key measurements of your CBC and the “normal” value (or score) for each.

  • Absolute neutrophil count (ANC) measures the number of specific infection-fighting white blood cells called neutrophils (pronounced new-tro-fils). Normal treating lab value: 1,500/mm3 and above.
  • Erythrocytes (eh-rith-ro-sites) are red blood cells. Normal lab value for males: 4.7 - 6.1 million/mm3. Normal lab value for females: 4.2 - 5.4 million/mm3
  • Hematocrit (Hct) (hee-mat-uh-krit) is the proportion of blood that consists only of red blood cells.
    • Normal lab value for males: 42 - 52 percent.
    • Normal lab value for females: 37 - 47 percent.
  • Hemoglobin (Hb) (hee-mo-glow-bin) measures the amount of blood that contains iron and carries oxygen.
    • Normal lab value for males: 14 - 18 g/dL
    • Normal lab value for females: 12 - 16 g/dL
  • Platelets (Plt) (plate-lets) are the cells that help form clots and stop bleeding. Normal lab value: 150,000 - 400,000/mm3

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel

Your physician also may order a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP), a group of 14 blood tests that evaluates liver and kidney function and measures sugar and electrolyte levels. CMP results will help your clinical team monitor how treatment may be impacting you, and whether additional steps need to be taken to address side effects.

Tracking Blood Test Results

Observing the progress of your treatment and changes in your condition includes tracking your lab results. Throughout your treatment, you and your care team may monitor your CBC to measure the effectiveness of your treatment and your body's ability to prevent and fight certain unwanted side effects, such as infections.

Tumor Markers

Tumor markers measure substances found in increased amounts in the body that may indicate the presence of cancer. Tumor markers help in cancer screening (finding cancer early), diagnosis (making sure it is cancer), prognosis (predicting how the cancer will change over time), monitoring (measuring the effectiveness of treatment), and surveillance (follow-up care).

Specific tumor markers help identify specific types of cancer. Examples include the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) for prostate cancer and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) for colon cancer. Make sure to ask your care team about tumor markers related to your specific cancer, how the test is performed, what your specific levels are, and how to interpret them.