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Cancer

Infections Through Neutropenia

Infections can be one of the most serious side effects of treatment and should be avoided whenever possible. Infection can disrupt and delay your treatment and recovery, and may lead to hospitalization.

Patients receiving chemotherapy may be at risk of a low white blood cell count, (neutropenia), especially those who already have a low count or have previously received chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Older patients, and patients with other conditions, may be at risk for more severe infection and longer hospitalization. Being proactive is one of the best ways to help protect yourself from the risks associated with a low white blood cell count.  Symptoms may include fever, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath, diarrhea, nasal congestion, unusual vaginal discharge or itching, burning during urination, chills, redness, swelling, or warmth at the site of an injury.

Your doctor may prescribe a white blood cell growth factor medication to help you produce more white blood cells and reduce the period of time that you are at risk of infection. These medications are given after every cycle of chemotherapy to stimulate the bone marrow to produce more white blood cells. White blood cell growth factors can ease achiness and some flu-like symptoms and can help you get your treatment as planned and at the full dose.

You can help yourself by:
  • Washing your hands often with antibacterial soap, especially after using the bathroom.
  • Avoid vaginal douches, bubble bath, and bath salts.
  • Avoid cuts, scrapes, and burns.
  • Use an electric razor, not a blade.
  • Leave pimples and sores alone.
  • Avoid people with colds, flu, or any type of infection or open sores.
  • Do not have vaccinations such as flu shots unless your health care provider approves.
  • Never use rectal thermometers or suppositories.
  • Avoid sunburn.
  • Clean the furnace and heating ducts once or twice a year.  Replace the filters monthly.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Completely cook your food.
  • Avoid constipation and eat lots of fiber.
  • Always use a soft toothbrush and avoid dental floss.
  • Get plenty of rest.

Diagnosing Infection

Fever is a sign of infection, sometimes the only sign. If you develop a fever (temperature higher than 100.4˚F, or 38˚C), notify your doctor immediately. Infection associated with a low white blood cell count can be life-threatening.

While on chemotherapy, you should take your temperature every day – and record it.

An infection can occur in any number of places throughout the body. Specific symptoms can indicate the site of your infection and help target your treatment.

 Location Symptoms
Bladder Painful urination
Gastrointestinal tract
Diarrhea, cramping
Rectum
Rectal bleeding, pain while defecating
Respiratory system
Cough, congestion, yellow or green sputum (fluid coughed up from lungs)
Sinus
Sinus pain, congestion, headache
Skin
Redness, pain, tenderness or swelling near a cut
Systemic (throughout the body)
Flu-like symptoms