Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can affect the blood cells in your immune system that protect against disease. This is why cancer patients are at increased risk of getting an infection and may get sick more easily. Don’t worry. There are many preventative steps that you can take to stay healthy.
Practice Good Hygiene
- Wash your hands well with soap and warm water especially before you cook or eat, after you use the bathroom, and after being in a public place.
- Brush your teeth two to three times a day, especially after meals, to clean bacteria in your teeth and gums. Don’t forget to brush your tongue and floss too!
- Wash your wounds thoroughly and cover with a band-aid for protection.
- Avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and ears with dirty hands.
- Keep yourself clean by showering each day.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid individuals who are actively sick with a virus, cold, or contagious disease.
Develop Food Safety Habits
- Wash hands in warm soapy water before handling, preparing, and eating food.
- Consume only pasteurized juices and dairy products.
- Consume food that has not passed the expiration date.
- Store raw meat, fish, and chicken carefully in wrapped containers to avoid spillage of juice that can potentially contaminate other food.
- Avoid raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or shellfish.
- Store foods at their proper temperature right after buying them to limit growth of germs.
- Clean your utensils, countertops, cookware and sponges well (in a dishwasher if possible).
- According to the Centers of Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer patients are at increased risk for complications from the flu and are advised to get the flu vaccination. Cancer patients should receive the shot—not the nasal spray—because it has inactivated viruses, making it safer for cancer patients. Speak to your doctor about whether the annual flu shot is available and safe for you depending on your current treatment cycle. Also, talk to your doctor about the importance of having your family, friends, and those close to you vaccinated.
- Ask your doctor about also getting the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. People with cancer are at higher risk of developing pneumonia and meningitis. Ask whether this vaccine is safe for you at the stage of treatment you are in and if two shots of the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine are needed, as suggested by CDC.
- Avoid using any vaccines with live viruses such as MMR, varciella, and the shingles vaccine.
Important Point: Check with your health care team first before receiving any vaccines.
Discuss with your health care team the timing of receiving vaccinations, as vaccines given during chemotherapy or radiation therapy may not be as effective. According to the CDC, anyone vaccinated within 14 days before starting immunosuppressive therapy should be considered not immunized and should be revaccinated at least three months after therapy is stopped.
Signs of Infection
Talk to your doctor if you experience one or more of these symptoms:
- Fever of more than 100.4 Fahrenheit or 38.0 Celsius
- Chills or sweats
- Cough or shortness of breath that your team is unaware of
- Redness, swelling, drainage, or warmth at a site of a wound or anywhere on the skin
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Burning or pain when passing urine
- Stiff neck