Evolving concepts of management of febrile neutropenia in children with cancer

Med Pediatr Oncol. 2002 Aug;39(2):77-85. doi: 10.1002/mpo.10073.


Background: Recent investigations of febrile neutropenia in pediatric cancer patients have identified subsets of low-risk patients who can be managed with less antibiotic therapy than previously recommended standards.

Methods and materials: PubMed and Medline were searched for prospective trials and reviews of febrile neutropenia in children. Magnitude and duration of fever and neutropenia, comorbidities, and therapeutic strategies were examined.

Results: Twenty-seven prospective trials and five reviews were identified. The child with cancer and low-risk febrile neutropenia is clinically well and afebrile within 24-96 hr of antibiotic therapy and has evidence of marrow recovery with a rising phagocyte count. Disqualifying comorbidities include leukemia at diagnosis or in relapse, uncontrolled cancer, age under 1 year, medical condition(s) that would otherwise require hospitalization and social or economic conditions that may potentially compromise access to care or compliance. Therapeutic strategies include parenteral or oral antibiotics in the hospital with early discharge or parenteral antibiotics in the outpatient setting followed by oral or parenteral therapy and daily reassessment. Although as many as 25% of low-risk patients require modification of therapy and/or hospitalization, life-threatening or fatal infection is exceptional.

Conclusion: One-third to one-half the children with febrile neutropenia are at low-risk of serious infection. In the context of clinic trials, they can be safely managed with inpatient or outpatient strategies that maintain close follow-up and reduce the burden of antibiotic therapy. Adoption of these alternative strategies as the standard of care should proceed with caution guided by written protocols.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Bacterial Infections / complications*
  • Bacterial Infections / drug therapy*
  • Bacterial Infections / etiology
  • Child
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Fever / microbiology*
  • Fever / therapy
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Monocytes
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Neutropenia / chemically induced
  • Neutropenia / complications*
  • Neutropenia / etiology*
  • Neutropenia / therapy
  • Neutrophils
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Assessment


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents