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Information for Patients and Caregivers

Cancer patients who are treated with chemotherapy are more likely to get infections through everyday activities, or from health care settings. One out of every 10 cancer patients who receives chemotherapy gets an infection that requires a hospital visit.

What Is an Infection?

You get an infection when germs enter your body and multiply, causing illness, organ and tissue damage, or disease. Bacteria and viruses cause infections.

  • You can get bacteria from the air, water, soil, or food during the course of your medical treatment. Most bacteria come from your own body. Common bacterial infections include pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear infections.
  • Viruses are passed from one person to another. Common viral infections include the common cold, herpes, and the flu.

How Does the Body Normally Fight Infections?

The immune system helps your body protect itself from getting an infection. Cancer and chemotherapy can damage this system, reducing your numbers of infection-fighting white blood cells and making it harder for your body to fight infections.

How Can I Prevent Infections During Chemotherapy?

  1. Prepare: Watch Out for Fever
  2. Prevent: Clean Your Hands
  3. Protect: Know the Signs and Symptoms of Infection

What Should I Do If I Think I Have an Infection?

Call your doctor right away, even if this happens in the middle of the night. This is considered an emergency. Don't wait until morning. Keep your doctor's phone numbers with you at all times. Make sure you know what number to call during your doctor's office hours, as well as after hours.

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