A Guide to Chemotherapy

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Chemo safety

Can I be around my family and friends while I’m getting chemo?

Very few treatments do require you to avoid close contact with loved ones for a short amount of time. If this is something you’ll have to do, your doctor will tell you about it when going over treatment options.

Most chemo drugs make you less able to fight infection. It’s very important that you stay away from anyone who is sick. The best way to prevent infection is by washing your hands often, especially before touching your face, nose, mouth, or eyes. Ask your family and friends to do the same when they are with you. For more information, see the section called “Increased chance of bruising, bleeding, infection, and anemia after chemo.”

For more information on being at home with family and friends during treatment, please see Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer: Dealing With Treatment and Caring for the Patient With Cancer at Home: A Guide for Patients and Families. They can be read online, or call us to have free copies sent to you.

How can I protect myself and those I live with while I’m getting chemo?

There are many things you can do during and after chemo to keep yourself and your loved ones from being affected by the chemo drugs while your body is getting rid of them. It takes about 48 hours for your body to break down and/or get rid of most chemo drugs.

Most of the waste comes out in your body fluids – urine, stool, tears, and vomit. The drugs are also in your blood. When chemo drugs get outside your body, they can harm or irritate skin – yours or even other people’s. Keep in mind that this means toilets can be a hazard for children and pets, and it’s important to be careful. Talk to your doctor about these and any other precautions you should follow.

During – and for 48 hours after – chemo:

  • Flush the toilet twice after you use it. Put the lid down before flushing to avoid splashing. If possible, you may want to use a separate toilet during this time. If this is not possible, wear gloves to clean the toilet seat after each use.
  • Both men and women should sit on the toilet to use it. This cuts down on splashing.
  • Always wash your hands with warm water and soap after using the toilet. Dry your hands with paper towels and throw them away.
  • If you vomit into the toilet, clean off all splashes and flush twice. If you vomit into a bucket or basin, carefully empty it into the toilet without splashing the contents and flush twice. Wash out the bucket with hot, soapy water and rinse it, emptying the wash and rinse water into the toilet, then flushing it. Dry the bucket with paper towels and throw them away.
  • Caregivers should wear 2 pairs of throw-away gloves if they need to touch any of your body fluids. (These can be bought in most drug stores.) They should always wash their hands with warm water and soap afterward – even if they had gloves on.
  • If a caregiver does come in contact with any of your body fluids, they should wash the area very well with warm water and soap. It’s not likely to cause any harm, but try to take extra care to avoid this. At your next visit, let your doctor know this happened. Being exposed often may lead to problems, and extra care should be taken to avoid this.
  • Any clothes or sheets that have body fluids on them should be washed in your washing machine – not by hand. Wash them in warm water with regular laundry detergent. Do not wash them with other clothes. If they cannot be washed right away, seal them in a plastic bag.
  • If using throw-away adult diapers, underwear, or sanitary pads, seal them in 2 plastic bags and throw them away with your regular trash.

Last Medical Review: 06/09/2015
Last Revised: 06/09/2015