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Strength for Your Journey

14 June 2005

Chemotherapy and Infection

We'll look at some ways to remain as healthy as possible throughout your treatment, and provide tips for avoiding infections. When you are on chemotherapy, your body can become more prone to infection. This happens because chemo can harm white blood cells - the cells that fight against infection. Part of staying strong and healthy during treatment means you will need to take extra precautions.

Living with the Risk of Infection

Having cancer and being treated with chemotherapy can suppress your immune system. Getting a cold or coming down with the flu can put you at risk for developing a serious infection, and could impact your treatments.

Managing the Risk of Infection

Fortunately, there are some simple precautions you can take to help prevent infection:

1. Wash your hands often, especially before eating, after using the bathroom, and after touching items handled by other people.

2. Avoid people with a cold or the flu and especially children recently immunized. Don't get immunized yourself (even a flu shot) without your doctor's okay.

3. Be careful when using everyday things like scissors and nail clippers, and use an electric shaver instead of a razor to avoid cuts.

4. Take a warm bath or sponge bath everyday. Pat dry; do not rub too hard.

5. Clean cuts thoroughly with antiseptic and bandage them.

Infection and Your Continuing Treatment

Your risk of infection can continue for several months after treatment ends, so it's important to remain cautious even after chemotherapy ends. Always talk to your doctor or nurse about any side effects you experience so they can provide immediate care.

Anemia & Cancer

If you have cancer, you may just think that feeling tired is part of the disease. However, feeling unusually tired may be due to anemia, a common side effect of many chemotherapy regimens.

Chemotherapy helps eliminate cancer cells, but it also eliminates good, healthy cells, such as blood cells. It can decrease your red blood cell (RBC) levels, causing anemia. Because it is the hemoglobin in your RBCs that carries oxygen throughout your body, a fall in these oxygen-rich cells can cause your energy level to drop.

Also, cancer patients with myelosuppressive disease (those that inhibit bone marrow function) who are not undergoing chemotherapy also can develop anemia.

Many patients who experience fatigue and have been diagnosed with anemia have not been treated for it, although there are ways to combat it.

At one time, blood transfusions were the only way to treat low red blood cell levels. Options today include erythropoietic therapy, which uses a drug that helps rebuild the supply of red blood cells to fight anemia

Treating Chemotherapy-Related Anemia

Anemia can be treated. Blood transfusions are used to treat severe anemia, but may cause allergic reactions, fevers, chills, infections, and headaches. In addition, blood transfusions may be inconvenient and time-consuming. Another way to treat anemia due to chemotherapy is with erythropoietic therapy, which builds your red blood cell supply.

Typically, erythropoietic therapy uses a copy of a natural hormone produced by your body, which stimulates your bone marrow to produce the red blood cells. Your body may not produce enough erythropoietin when you have cancer or are receiving cancer treatment, particularly chemotherapy. Therefore, your body may not produce enough red blood cells. As a result, anemia occurs. Erythropoietic therapy can stimulate your bone marrow to increase its production of red blood cells, just like your natural erythropoietin.

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