Chemotherapy makes you vulnerable to infections. This happens because most anticancer drugs affect the bone marrow, making it harder to make white blood cells, the cells that fight many types of infections. Your doctor will check your blood cell counts often while you are getting chemotherapy.
There are medications that help speed the recovery of white blood cells, shortening the time when the white blood count is very low. These medications are called colony stimulating factors (CSF). Raising the white blood cell count greatly lowers the risk of serious infection.
If you are at a high risk for getting an infection, your doctor may recommend preventive medications, such as antibiotics or antifungal drugs to help prevent them before they occur.
Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms:
Report any signs of infection to your doctor right away, even if it is in the middle of the night. This is especially important when your white blood cell count is low. Be sure to check with your doctor before you take any fever-reducing medication.
Many infections come from bacteria normally found on your skin and in your mouth, intestines, and genital tract. Sometimes, the cause of an infection may not be known. Even if you take extra care, you still may get an infection. But here are some things you can do:
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
BC Cancer Agency
Canadian Cancer Society
Chemotherapy and you. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/chemotherapy-and-you.pdf. Updated June 2011. Accessed November 14, 2017.
Toxicities of chemotherapeutic agents. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115935/Toxicities-of-chemotherapeutic-agents. Updated October 23, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2017.
Chemotherapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/chemotherapy.html. Accessed November 14, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/21/2015