Does cancer put me at risk for sepsis?
Yes. Having cancer and undergoing certain treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, can put you at higher risk of developing an infection, and infections can lead to sepsis.
Chemotherapy works by killing the fastest-growing cells in your body—both good and bad. This means that along with killing cancer cells, chemo also kills your infection-fighting white blood cells.
When am I more likely to get an infection?
An infection or sepsis can happen at any time. However, when your body has very low levels of a certain type of white blood cell (neutrophils) that increases your risk of getting an infection. This condition is a common side effect of chemo called neutropenia.
How will I know if I have neutropenia?
Your doctor will routinely test for neutropenia by checking the level of your white blood cells.
How can I prevent an infection?
- Wash your hands often and ask others around you to do the same.
- Avoid crowded places and people who are sick.
- Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot or other vaccinations.
- Take a bath or shower every day (unless told otherwise).
- Use an unscented lotion to try to keep your skin from getting dry or cracked.
- Clean your teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush.
- Use a mouthwash to prevent mouth sores (if your doctor recommends one).
- Do not share food, drink cups, utensils or other personal items, such as toothbrushes.
- Cook meat and eggs all the way through to kill any germs.
- Carefully wash raw fruits and vegetables.
- Protect your skin from direct contact with pet bodily waste (urine or feces).
- Wash your hands immediately after touching an animal or removing its waste, even after wearing gloves.
- Use gloves for gardening.
For a person with cancer, almost any infection can lead to sepsis, for more information see Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients.
Cancer, Infection and Sepsis Fact Sheet pdf icon[PDF – 2 pages]
A potentially deadly combination that every cancer patient should know about