Oncology: Preventing Infections

Oncology: Preventing Infections

Chemotherapy can make your body less able to fight off infection. This happens because treatment reduces the number of white blood cells (infection fighters) in your body. To help prevent infections, try the tips on this handout.

Closeup of hands in sink with running water. Hands are covered with soap suds.
Scrub your hands with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds.

Know Your Nadir

The nadir is the time during your chemotherapy cycle when you have the fewest white blood cells. The length of your nadir and when it occurs depend on the drugs you are taking. Each drug has its own nadir. Talk with your doctor or nurse about your nadir period. Then take extra precautions to prevent infection at that time.

Protect Yourself

  • Keep your hands clean. To reduce your risk of infection, wash your hands often throughout the day. For best results, lather them with soap for at least 15 seconds. Wash your hands before eating, after spending time in public places, and after using the bathroom.

  • Avoid some foods. Limit your risk. Don’t eat uncooked or undercooked meat or fish. You may also be told not to eat raw vegetables or thin-skinned fruits during your nadir.

  • Reduce your risk of illness. Right now, your body is less able to fight off colds, measles, and other illnesses. Try not to spend time with people who are sick. Stay away from crowds during your nadir.

  • Wear gloves. Make it harder for infection to enter your body. Wear gloves when you work around germs and dirt. Have someone else clean a pet’s litter box.

  • Avoid cutting yourself. Do not walk barefoot.

Medications Can Help

  • Prevent and treat infection. These drugs attack the germs that cause infection. Antibiotics work in this way.

  • Trigger new cell growth. These medications cause your body to make new white blood cells. Neupogen is an example of such a drug.

Call Your Doctor If You Have:

  • Temperature of 101.0ºF or higher.

  • Burning when you urinate.

  • Severe coughing or sore throat.

  • Shortness of breath, sweating, or chills.

  • Pain, especially near a catheter site.