To reduce your risk of infection during cancer treatment, it’s important to take precautions and put your health first.
Infection prevention during cancer treatment
While they all affect your body in different ways, certain types of cancer treatments can lower your immunity and leave you vulnerable to infection. If you fall ill with a weakened immune system, your body will also find it more difficult to fight the infection.
To ensure you protect your health during cancer treatment, learning how to prevent infection and taking precautions is very important.
There are many different ways you can reduce your risk of infection.
Practice good hygiene
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently or use antibacterial hand sanitisers. This is important to lower your risk of falling ill, especially:
- Before touching or eating food
- After you have gone to the toilet
- After sneezing or coughing
- Before touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- After visiting public places or touching items used by others
- After touching any wound dressings
- Shower or bathe daily
- Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough
- Don’t share food, cups, utensils, toothbrushes or makeup
- Clean your teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush. Use a mouthwash to prevent infections if your doctor or dentist recommends it
Meal preparation and foods to avoid
- Prepare and store food properly to avoid foodborne illness and food poisoning
- Don’t eat raw foods, including meats, shellfish, and eggs. Cook meat well before you eat and wash raw fruits and vegetables
- Animals can carry infections, so it is important not to change cat litter or handle animal waste
Around the house
- Use gloves during gardening and housework, especially while cleaning
- Be careful using sharp objects, such as scissors or knives. To avoid cuts, consider using an electric shaver and a blunt nail file instead of nail clippers
- Check with your doctor about having the flu or other vaccinations
- Ask people close to you to consider being vaccinated against the flu
- Avoid contact with people who are sick with illnesses you can catch (e.g. cold, flu, chickenpox, measles). Ask family and friends to wait until they feel well before visiting
- As far as practical, avoid close contact with people you live with if they are unwell
- Care for your wound dressings as instructed by your health care professional, if applicable
- Change in urination (frequency or burning sensation)
- Vaginal discharge or itching
- Redness, swelling or sores on your skin
- Difficult or painful breathing
If you experience any sign of infection, no matter how small, call your treatment team immediately or go to your local emergency department.
- American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2018). Infection. Retrieved on 18 February 2020 from https://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/physical-emotional-and-social-effects-cancer/managing-physical-side-effects/infection
- Cancer Council. (2018). Infections. Retrieved on 18 February 2020 from https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/cancer-information/cancer-treatment/chemotherapy/side-effects/how-chemotherapy-affects-the-blood/infections/
- Cancer Institute NSW. (2015). Infection during cancer treatment. Retrieved on 18 February 2020 from https://www.eviq.org.au/getmedia/fa16c685-034f-4b6d-a576-ade128a940ce/English-Infection-During-Cancer-Treatments.pdf.aspx?ext=.pdf
- Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Preventing infections in cancer patients. Retrieved on 18 February 2020 from https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/preventinfections/index.htm
- American Cancer Society. (2015). Preventing infections in people with cancer. Retrieved on 18 February 2020 from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/low-blood-counts/infections/preventing-infections-in-people-with-cancer.html
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