Lower Your Risk of Infection During Chemotherapy

Lower Your Risk of Infection During Chemotherapy

By Breast Cancer Connect Staff Published at March 12 Views 4,239

Chemotherapy works by destroying fast-growing cells in the body. But sometimes chemo drugs kill not only toxic cancer cells, but also healthy ones – like white blood cells (WBC). Produced in the bone marrow, white blood cells protect your body against the viruses and bacteria that cause infections.

Watch for These Symptoms

Low WBC count, or neutropenia, is a common side effect of chemotherapy, and can make you temporarily more vulnerable to illness. That’s why it’s especially important to be alert to certain signs, since even a mild infection can lead to serious complications and delays in your treatment, if ignored. Tell your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Fever over 100° F
  • Chills and sweats
  • Severe cough or sore throat
  • Ear aches, headaches, or sinus pain
  • Mouth sores or blisters
  • Burning, painful urination
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

Protect Yourself from Infection

Although you may not be able to avoid neutropenia, you can lower your risk of infection even when your white blood cell count is down. These tips can help you stay healthy during chemotherapy:

Avoid everyday activities that increase your chances of injury. Even a minor nick can quickly become serious. Be careful when clipping nails. Use an electric shaver instead of a razor. Ask someone else to chop food when preparing meals. If you do cut yourself, wash the wound with warm, soapy water, apply antibiotic cream, and keep it covered.

Keep germs away. Especially during the first two weeks of chemotherapy, stay away from crowded places like airplanes, hotels, malls – and sick people. Shower daily and wash your hands often during the day. Wear disposable gloves to clean up after your pet or ask someone else to clean the fish tank or litter box. Don’t share food, cups, utensils, and other personal items.

Use a soft toothbrush to clean your teeth and gums. Be gentle when brushing your teeth. If you have mouth sores, ask your doctor to recommend a mouthwash.

Say “no” to raw foods. Avoid eating raw foods like sushi or sashimi. Thoroughly cook meat and eggs. Wash all fruits and vegetables.

Get plenty of rest. When you’re tired, take a break. Your body is working hard to fight the cancer and heal the healthy cells. Ask for help when you need it. Plan activities for when you have the most energy.

Chemotherapy affects each person differently. Some cancer drugs are less likely than others to lower your resistance to infection. Ask your doctor what to expect from your chemotherapy treatment.

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