Benign ethnic neutropenia

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Article, Peer-reviewed

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Benign ethnic neutropenia (BEN) is one of the most common causes of chronic neutropenia seen in individuals of African, Middle Eastern and West Indian descent, affecting many individuals worldwide. Despite its prevalence, many physicians are not familiar with this benign condition, resulting in unnecessary evaluation and testing for neutropenia in otherwise healthy individuals. Clinically, patients with BEN are at no increased risk of infection despite their neutropenia. Implications of this condition are highlighted in those patients receiving therapies that have a known side effect of neutropenia, most commonly chemotherapy agents. Studies have suggested that disparities in survival among those patients receiving chemotherapy between patients of European decent and African decent may be attributed to measured neutropenia in these populations, questioning whether BEN could be an influential factor. This review encompasses all aspects of benign ethnic neutropenia, providing information about this condition and helping to guide clinical decision-making as to when an aggressive work up and referral are indicated and when it is appropriate to monitor. Additionally, we review the role of genetic studies in identifying the genes related to BEN, summarize the theories that offer the most accepted mechanisms behind the condition, and address the importance of pursuing larger studies to assess the implication of BEN in oncology patients as well as patients taking neutropenia-causing medications.