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Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell. In fact, most of the white blood cells that lead the immune system’s response are neutrophils. There are four other types of white blood cells. Neutrophils are the most plentiful type, making up 55 to 70 percent of your white blood cells. White blood cells, also called leukocytes, are a key part of your immune system. Your immune system is made up of tissues, organs, and cells. As part of this complex system, white blood cells patrol your bloodstream and lymphatic system. When you’re sick or have a minor injury, substances that your body sees as foreign, known as antigens, call your immune system into action. Examples of antigens include:

  • bacteria
  • viruses
  • fungi
  • poisons
  • cancer cells

White blood cells produce chemicals that fight antigens by going to the source of the infection or inflammation. Neutrophils are important because, unlike some of the other white blood cells, they aren’t limited to a specific area of circulation. They can move freely through the walls of veins and into the tissues of your body to immediately attack all antigens.

Absolute neutrophil count (ANC)

An absolute neutrophil count (ANC) can provide your doctor with important clues about your health. An ANC is typically ordered as part of a complete blood count (CBC) with differential. A CBC measures the cells that are in your blood. Your doctor may order an ANC:

  • to screen for a number of conditions
  • to help diagnose a condition
  • to monitor your status if you have an existing disease or if you’re undergoing chemotherapy

If your ANC is abnormal, your doctor will likely want to repeat the blood test multiple times over a period of weeks. This way, they can monitor for changes in your neutrophil count.

What to expect

For the ANC test, a small amount of blood will be drawn, usually from a vein in your arm. This will happen at your doctor’s office or in a lab. The blood will be evaluated in a laboratory and the results will be sent to your doctor. Certain conditions can affect the results of your blood test. Be sure to tell your doctor if you’re pregnant, or if you’ve had any of the following:

  • a recent infection
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • corticosteroid therapy
  • recent surgery
  • anxiety
  • HIV

Understanding the results

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