Infections in People With Cancer

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Cancer itself can increase infection risk

Cancer cells can get into the bone marrow where blood cells are made. (See “How does the body normally resist infections?” for more on bone marrow and blood cells.) The cancer cells then compete with the normal bone marrow cells for space and nutrients. If too many normal bone marrow cells are destroyed or pushed out of the bone marrow, the few cells that are left won’t be able to make enough white blood cells (WBCs) to fight infection.

Cancer can also damage other parts of the immune system. A tumor can grow through the skin or mucous membranes, breaking natural barriers and allowing germs to get in. Tumors may also reduce blood flow to the normal tissues by pressing on them or their blood supply. Tumors in the lungs may block normal mucus drainage, which can lead to infections. And tissues that have been damaged by cancer are more prone to infections.

Last Medical Review: 02/16/2015
Last Revised: 02/25/2015