Infections in People With Cancer
Cancer itself can increase infection risk
Cancer cells can get into the bone marrow where blood cells are made. (See How does your 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.
- What are infections and who is at risk?
- What are signs of infection in people with cancer?
- How does your body normally resist infections?
- What makes people with cancer more likely to get infections?
- Cancer itself can increase infection risk
- Cancer treatments can increase infection risk
- Poor nutrition can affect infection risk in people with cancer
- Low white blood cell (neutrophil) counts and the risk of infection
- To learn more
Last Medical Review: February 16, 2015 Last Revised: February 25, 2015