is a problem of cancer treatment that can be lessened and
treated. You may be at risk for infection due to cancer or from
the side effects of treatment. If signs of infection are
ignored, you can become very ill.
The body has many ways to protect you from infections. Skin,
acid in the stomach, and coughing are some ways that the body
protects itself. White blood cells destroy germs after they
enter the body. Neutrophils are the special white blood cells
that fight infection. When the number of neutrophils is lowered,
you are said to be ‘‘neutropenic’’ and very prone to
infections. Even mild infections such as cold sores can cause
Some persons, such as those with leukemia or lymphoma, are at
risk for infection because the cancer has affected the body’s
own defenses. Others are at risk when treatment (either
chemotherapy or radiation therapy) has affected the making of
white blood cells, which fight infections. If you are
neutropenic for only a few days, the risk of infection is small.
If the neutropenia lasts for a week or longer, the risk of
infection is very high.
Learning Needs There are some important points that you
need to learn about infection. You need to learn the following:
- What to do to decrease your chance of infection
- The signs and symptoms of infection
- When infection is most likely to occur
- How to manage infection if it does occur
Your doctor will tell you when you are getting treatment that
may cause your white blood count to be lowered. You may goto the
office or have a nurse come to your home to have blood drawn for
testing during the time when your blood count is expected to be
low. Take your temperature any time you feel hot or chilled. If
your temperature is above 38.5 C or 101.3 F, call your doctor or
Prevention Infection cannot be completely prevented.
However, there are many things you can do to decrease the risk
- Avoid large crowds or anyone with signs of infection.
- Keep your body very clean by bathing daily and washing
hands after using the bathroom.
- Keep your mouth very clean by brushing your teeth twice
daily and flossing once daily. Your doctor or nurse may
suggest that you rinse your mouth with a special cleansing
solution as well.
- Avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid constipation and straining to have a bowel movement
by using a medication that softens the stool. Drink 2 quarts
of fluid a day. Do not use laxatives or enemas unless
approved by your doctor.
- Remove fresh flowers and live plants from the rooms where
- Do not change cat litter or clean up excreta from animals
yourself; have some one else do it.
Management Infection is usually marked by a temperature
greater than 38.5 C or 101.3 F. Symptoms of infection are as
- Cough with or without sputum production (spitting)
- Burning on urination
- Pain at the site of an intravenous catheter or tunneled
- Sore mouth
- Any area with redness or swelling
Your doctor will decide the best way to treat your infection.
If your temperature is less than 100.4 F, your doctor may order
oral antibiotics. You should take your temperature every 4 hours
while awake and inform your doctor of any increases in
temperature. You may take acetaminophen (Tylenol) to control the
fever, and you should drink plenty of fluids. Your doctor may
tell you to come to the office or hospital for a complete exam.
This usually includes blood tests, chest x-ray films, and other
tests such as urine or sputum. If you are admitted to the
hospital, antibiotics will be given by vein. You should continue
the same actions to decrease infection that you were doing at
Follow-up If you have fever or any of the signs of
infection, call your doctor or nurse immediately. Be prepared to
tell them the following facts:
- Last treatment
- Highest temperature in the last 24 hours
- Any chills
- Any symptoms of infection