What is Chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that uses powerful drugs to kill rapidly dividing cancer cells. While chemotherapy can be highly effective in treating cancer, it also comes with a number of side effects, including an increased risk of infection.
Chemotherapy can also damage healthy cells that divide rapidly, such as those in the bone marrow. This damage can lead to a decrease in the number of white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting off infections. When a patient’s white blood cell count drops too low, they are at an increased risk of developing infections.
There are a number of different types of infections that chemotherapy patients are at risk for. One of the most common is a bacterial infection. Bacteria are everywhere, and our bodies have natural defenses against them. However, when a patient’s white blood cell count drops, their body is less able to fight off bacterial infections. This can lead to infections such as pneumonia, skin infections, and urinary tract infections.
People getting chemotherapy are also at an increased risk of viral infections. Viruses are responsible for many common illnesses, such as the flu and the common cold. While most healthy people are able to fight off these infections with little difficulty, patients undergoing chemotherapy may have a more difficult time. This is because their immune systems are weakened, making it easier for viruses to take hold.
Fungal infections are another risk for chemotherapy patients. Fungi are common in our environment and are normally kept in check by our immune systems. However, when a patient’s immune system is weakened, fungal infections can become a problem. Fungal infections can be difficult to treat and can cause serious complications.
What can be done to decrease the risk of infection? There are a number of things that patients can do to help protect themselves, including:
- Practice good hygiene: Regular hand washing and avoiding contact with sick people can help prevent the spread of infection.
- Avoid large crowds: Being around large groups of people, such as at concerts or sporting events, can increase the risk of exposure to infectious diseases.
- Stay up-to-date on vaccinations: Getting vaccinated can help protect against certain infectious diseases.
- Take antibiotics or antivirals as prescribed: In some cases, chemotherapy patients may be given antibiotics or antiviral medications to help prevent infections.
- Contact their healthcare provider if they have symptoms of an infection: Early detection and treatment of infections can help prevent them from becoming more serious.