- What are infections and who is at risk?
- How your body normally resists infections
- Signs of infection people with cancer should watch for
- Why are people with cancer more likely to get infections?
- Immunosuppression and neutropenia
- Problems caused by the cancer
- Poor nutrition
- Cancer treatment and infection risk
- Neutropenia and risk of serious infection
- How does the doctor know what kind of infection a person with cancer has?
- What kinds of germs cause infections in people with cancer?
- What can people with cancer do to prevent infections?
- Get the right vaccines
- Take precautions
- Use prescribed medicines to prevent infections
- How is infection treated in people with cancer?
- To learn more
Signs of infection people with cancer should watch for
It’s important to watch for early signs of infection and tell your health care team about them right away. This way treatment can be started as early as possible. This is most important for people who have a low white blood cell count. Signs and symptoms of an infection might include:
- Body temperature of more than 100.5º F or higher taken by mouth
- Shaking chills or sweats (often goes along with fever)
- Sore throat
- Cough or shortness of breath
- Nasal congestion
- Burning or pain when passing urine; bloody or cloudy urine
- Redness, swelling, drainage, or warmth at the site of an injury, surgical wound, or vascular access device (VAD), or anywhere on the skin including the genital and rectal areas
- Stiff neck
- Sinus pain or headache
Fever is especially important because it’s often the first sign of an infection in people with cancer. Patients may be told to call their doctor or nurse if they have a temperature of 100.5º F or higher, or if they have other signs and symptoms of infection. Don’t take medicines to reduce your fever (such as Tylenol®, Advil®, Motrin®, or aspirin) without checking with your doctor first. Ask your doctor what you should do and when you should call. Be sure you know how to reach your health care team after hours, and nights, and weekends.
It’s important for people with cancer and their families and friends to know these things:
- The patient’s risk for infection
- How long the white blood cell count (WBC) or absolute neutrophil count (ANC) is likely be low after treatment
- The importance of taking the patient’s temperature, how to take it the right way, when to check it, and how often to check it
- When to report a fever or other signs and symptoms of infection to the doctor or nurse
- The importance of basic hand washing and hygiene for the patient and the people they come in contact with
- The importance of cleaning around the anus after each bowel movement
- How to take good care of the mouth and check for sores and fungal infections
- How to clean cuts or other breaks in the skin and keep them clean to prevent infection
- Good care of IVs and vascular access devices (VADs)
- Where to look for signs of infection (skin, mouth, and VAD sites)
- The importance of good nutrition, a balanced diet, and drinking plenty of fluids
- The importance of sleep and exercise, and how to pace yourself to save energy
- The need to take medicines as prescribed and being sure the doctor knows about all medicines you are taking (prescription, over-the-counter, vitamins, herbs, and supplements); keep a list and update it at each doctor visit
- Ways to prevent dryness of the skin and mucous membranes
- The need to talk with your health care team or doctor before getting vaccinated (immunized) and before getting close to children or adults who have recently had vaccinations.
Last Medical Review: 12/06/2012
Last Revised: 12/06/2012