- 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
Use prescribed medicines to prevent infections
Sometimes, doctors prescribe medicines when a person’s absolute neutrophil count (ANC) is very low — even though there’s no sign of infection. The drugs are given to help keep you from getting an infection.
Anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and/or anti-fungal drugs may be used to help prevent infection. You may hear this called prophylactic antibiotic use, or just prophylaxis. Prophylaxis is only used when there’s a very high risk of getting infections, for example, if you are expected to have severe neutropenia for a week or longer. Antibiotics may also be given if you are taking other medicines that can make your immune system weak, such as a long course of steroids or certain immunotherapy drugs.
The prophylactic antibiotics are stopped when your ANC improves or the immune-weakening drugs are stopped. Using antibiotics in this way does not prevent all infections, so it’s still important to use the same precautions as when you are not taking prophylactic antibiotics.
Growth factors are proteins your body makes to help your blood cells grow. They are also known as colony-stimulating factors (CSFs).
You can be given man-made CSFs as injections (shots). They are most often used after chemo to keep your white blood cell (WBC) count up and help prevent infection. You may be given a CSF before a cycle of chemo to help your WBCs grow and keep your absolute neutrophil count (ANC) from getting too low. Or, you might get it when your ANC is low to help build it back up. Your doctor also may give you a CSF if your ANC is low and you have a serious infection that is getting worse even though you are getting treatment.
CSF drugs used today include filgrastim (Neupogen®) and pegfilgrastim (Neulasta®), which affect the neutrophils. Sargramostim (Leukine®) is a CSF that affects neutrophils, monocytes, and macrophages. All of these medicines shorten the length of time a person is neutropenic (low on neutrophils) and make the shortage of WBCs and neutrophils less severe.
Growth factors can have serious side effects in some people, but they can reduce the risk of infection in the patients who need them. You can call us (1-800-227-2345) to get more information on each of these drugs.
Last Medical Review: 12/06/2012
Last Revised: 12/06/2012