Avoiding Infections When You Have Cancer


When you have cancer, chemotherapy and radiation treatments can weaken your immune system. This makes it easier to get an infection and harder to fight it. In fact, infection is the most common complication in people with cancer, and it can be fatal.

White blood cells are made in the bone marrow and normally help fight infection. Many chemotherapy drugs can affect the bone marrow. Radiation therapy can also lower your resistance to disease. Surgery and invasive procedures present other infection risks.

All this makes you more prone to illnesses like colds, the flu, and pneumonia. You also have a greater risk of other infections, from sexually transmitted diseases to shingles to food-borne bacteria. Plus, any cut or burn you get during treatment is more likely to become infected.

Signs of an infection
If you have symptoms of an infection, see your doctor right away. If you have the flu, or other infection, you’ll need to be treated at once.

Signs of infection include:

•Fever, sweating, or chills
•Stiff neck, earache, or headache
•Cough
•Mouth ulcers
•Sore throat
•Skin blisters or redness
•Swollen lymph nodes
•Diarrhea
•Urinary problems
Preventing infection
Follow these tips to help protect yourself against common infections:

•Get a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that anyone at high risk for the flu get vaccinated before or early in the flu season. Contrary to popular belief, the flu shot cannot give you the flu. People with cancer are advised to get a flu shot, not the nasal spray vaccine.
•Wash your hands often, especially after you use the bathroom, before you eat, and after you have contact with animals. Scrub with warm soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds. Dry your hands with a clean towel. Alcohol-based sanitizers are great in a pinch if there’s no soap around.
•Avoid cat litter boxes, animal waste, fish tanks, and bird cages. Let someone else clean up after your pet.
•Stay away from crowds and people who are sick, especially anyone with a cold, the flu, measles, or chickenpox.
•Monitor injuries. Wash any cuts or scrapes right away with soap and warm water, then apply an antiseptic.
•Maintain your nutrition. Ask your doctor if you should take a dietary supplement, or talk to a nutritionist about a diet that can help boost your immunity.
•Avoid uncooked meat, seafood, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and even salad greens.
•Make sure all dairy products are pasteurized.
Now more than ever, it’s important to protect yourself from common illnesses. Take special precautions while in the hospital or doctor’s office, where you are exposed to other people who are sick. Infections can cause serious complications and delay your treatment. Being cautious can help you keep your treatment on course. In the end, that means a speedier recovery.

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