Side Effects of Chemotherapy


Some types of chemotherapy make it harder for your bone marrow to produce new white blood cells. White blood cells help your body fight infection. It is important to avoid infections since chemotherapy decreases the number of your white blood cells. There are many types of white blood cells. One type is called neutrophil. When your neutrophil count is low, it is called neutropenia. Your doctor or nurse may do blood tests to find out whether you have neutropenia. It is important to watch for signs of infection when you have neutropenia. It may be necessary to check for fever at least once a day (or as often as your doctor or nurse advises). It is easiest to use a digital thermometer.

Call your doctor or nurse if your temperature is 38 or higher.


Ways to Manage Infection:

  • Your doctor or nurse will check your white blood cell count throughout your treatment. If chemotherapy is likely to make your white blood cell count very low, you may be prescribed medicine to boost your white blood cell count and to lower your risk of infection.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Wash your hands before cooking and eating, and after you use the bathroom, blow your nose, cough, sneeze, or touch animals. Carry hand sanitizer for times when you are not near soap and water.
  • Use sanitizing wipes to clean surfaces and items that you touch, including ATMs, doorknobs and other common items.
    Be gentle and thorough when you wipe yourself after a bowel movement. Instead of toilet paper, use a baby wipe or a squirt of water from a spray bottle to clean yourself. Let your doctor or nurse know if your rectal area is sore or bleeds or if you have haemorrhoids.
  • Stay away from people who are sick. You may be more susceptible to contracting measles or chicken pox. You also need to stay away from children who just have a "live virus" vaccine for chicken pox or polio. Call your doctor, nurse or local health department if you have any questions.
  • Stay away from crowds. Try not to be around a lot of people. Plan to go shopping or to the movies when the shops and theatres are less crowded.
  • Be careful not to cut or nick yourself. Do not cut or tear your nail cuticles. Use an electric shaver instead of a razor, and be careful when using scissors, needles, or knives.
  • Watch for signs of infection around your catheter. Symptoms include drainage, redness, swelling or soreness. Let your doctor or nurse know about any changes you notice near your catheter.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth after meals and before you go to bed. Use a very soft toothbrush. You can soften the bristles by running hot water over them before you brush. Use mouthwash that does not contain alcohol. Check with your doctor or nurse before going to the dentist.
  • Take good care of your skin. Do not squeeze or scratch pimples. Use lotion to soften and heal dry, cracked skin. Dry yourself after a bath or shower by gently patting (not rubbing) your skin.
  • Clean cuts right away. Use warm water, soap and an antiseptic to clean your cuts. Do this every day until your cut develops a scab over it.
  • Be careful around animals. Do not clean your cat’s litter box, pick up dog waste, or clean bird cages or fish tanks. Be sure to wash your hands after touching pets and other animals.
  • Do not get a flu injection or any other type of vaccine without first asking your doctor or nurse. Some vaccines contain a live virus, which you should not be exposed to while undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Put food in the refrigerator as soon as you are done eating.
  • Wash raw vegetables and fruits well before eating them.
  • Do not eat raw or undercooked fish, seafood, meat, chicken or eggs. These may contain bacteria that can cause infection.
  • Do not have food or drinks that are mouldy, spoiled, or past their expiry date.
  • Call your doctor right away (even on the weekend or in the middle of the night) if you think you have an infection. Be sure you know how to reach your doctor after hours and on weekends. Call if you have a fever of 38ºC or higher, or when you have chills or sweats. Do not take aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen products, or any other drugs that reduce fever without first talking with your doctor or nurse.

Other Signs of Infection Include:

  • Redness
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Painful or frequent need to urinate
  • Swelling
  • Cough
  • Stiff neck
  • Rash
  • Earache
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Sinus pain or pressure

We are here to assist you in your battle against cancer.