- 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
Why are people with cancer more likely to get infections?
Some types of cancer can damage the immune and blood systems or change the way they work. For instance, lymphomas (Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin) and certain types of leukemia start in immune system cells. They change the immune system cells so that cells that once protected your body begin to interfere with the normal way your immune system works. Many other types of cancer can also affect the immune system.
In most cases it’s not the cancer itself, but the cancer treatment that changes the immune system. Treatments can cause short- or long-term damage. For example, long-term damage happens when immune system organs such as the spleen are removed. A splenectomy (surgery to remove the spleen) is sometimes done to remove cancer or learn how much it has spread. On the other hand, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of both can lead to short-term immune system damage. Sometimes this damage can last for months after treatment ends.
Some people with cancer have a higher risk of infection because of the changes in their body’s defense systems. Cancer and cancer treatments can affect these systems in different ways.
Last Medical Review: 12/06/2012
Last Revised: 12/06/2012