Some people worry about the safety of their friends and family during chemotherapy treatment. Whether you have chemotherapy at home or in hospital, you, your carers and your family need to take precautions to avoid exposure to the drugs.
Your family and friends, including children, babies and pregnant women, can visit you while you’re having chemotherapy. The chemotherapy won’t harm them as long as they don’t have any direct contact with the drugs. However, if people without cancer come into direct contact with chemotherapy drugs, they may be harmed.
When you are receiving chemotherapy, you will notice that the oncology nurses and doctors wear gloves, goggles, gowns, and sometimes masks. This protective clothing reduces their risk of exposure to the drugs as they administer the chemotherapy. After treatment is over, these items are disposed of in special bags or bins.
After you have had chemotherapy, the drugs may remain in your body for up to a week after treatment. This depends on the types of drugs used. It is possible for the drugs to be passed into urine, stools and other body fluids such as saliva, vomit, semen and breast milk. Care needs to be taken so that other people are not exposed to the drugs through contact with your body fluids.
Chemotherapy and infections
You are usually more prone to infections while you are having chemotherapy.
If any of your relatives or friends have an infectious illness, such as a cold or the flu, discuss it with your doctor or nurse. They may suggest that your loved ones wait until they are well before getting too close to you.
Chemotherapy safety at home
Your medical team may recommend that you follow these safety guidelines during chemotherapy. Safety precautions may vary depending on the drugs you receive, so ask your medical oncologist about your individual situation. If you have any specific concerns – for example, if you use incontinence or ostomy aids – discuss them with your oncologist. For more information, call Cancer Council Helpline 13 11 20.
- After using the toilet, flush it twice with the lid down for up to a week following a treatment session.
- Wash items soiled with body fluids in a separate load. Choose the maximum cycle that the fabric will allow.* After washing and line drying, these items can go back into general use. *Queensland Department of Human Relations Guide for Handling Cytotoxic Drugs and Related Waste recommends two wash cycles.
- Keep a supply of disposable rubber gloves and cleaning cloths on hand. To dispose of used gloves and cloths, seal them in a plastic bag before putting them in the bin.
- Wear rubber gloves when handling clothing or bed sheets soiled with vomit or any other body fluids.
- If body fluids or chemotherapy medication spill onto household surfaces (such as the carpet or a mattress), wear rubber gloves, soak up the spill with disposable paper towels, clean around the area with a disposable cloth and soapy water, and rinse the area with water.
- If medication spills on your skin, wash it with soap and running water. Contact the hospital if any redness or irritation caused by the spillage doesn’t clear up within the hour.
- Take precautions to avoid pregnancy while you are having chemotherapy. If you have a baby, you will not be able to breastfeed during your course of chemotherapy.
- Protect your partner from your body fluids by using a condom or a female condom if you have any type of sex within a few days after a treatment session. Your doctor or nurse can give you more information about how long you need to use this protection.
- Don’t crush or cut chemotherapy tablets. If you can’t swallow a tablet whole, talk to your doctor.
- Store chemotherapy tablets, capsules or injections as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. Keep them out of reach of children. Seal empty tablet containers in a plastic bag and return them to your pharmacy or hospital oncology department.