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Symptom Management:

Symptom Management

Side Effects of Treatment
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
Appetite Loss
Bladder Disturbances
Incontinence - Urinary
Dryness of the Mouth
Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances
Flu-like Syndrome
Hair Loss
Menopausal Symptoms
Nausea & Vomiting
Neurological Disturbances
Spinal Cord Compression
Peritoneal Effusions
Shortness of Breath
Skin Conditions
Sleep Problems (Insomnia/Oversleeping)
Sore Mouth
Bone Metastases
Sexuality Issues
Sexual Dysfunction

Symptom and Description Infection 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 life-threatening illness.

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 nurse immediately.

Prevention Infection cannot be completely prevented. However, there are many things you can do to decrease the risk of infection.

  • 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 you stay.
  • 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 follows:

  • Fever
  • Cough with or without sputum production (spitting)
  • Burning on urination
  • Pain at the site of an intravenous catheter or tunneled catheter
  • 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 home.

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
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