While providing many benefits, chemotherapy is strong, cytotoxic (toxic to cells) medicine, so it is safest for people without cancer to avoid direct contact with the drugs. Cancer (oncology) nurses and doctors often wear gloves, goggles, gowns or masks because they are exposed to chemotherapy drugs every day. When the treatment session is over, these items are disposed of in special bags or bins.
Learn more about:
- What happens after each session?
- Is there any risk to family and friends?
- Chemotherapy safety at home
What happens after each session?
After each chemotherapy session, the drugs may remain in your body for up to a week. During this time, very small amounts of the drugs may be released from the body in your vomit, urine (wee), faeces (poo), blood, saliva, sweat, semen or vaginal discharge, and breastmilk.
Is there any risk to family and friends?
You may worry about the safety of family and friends while you are having chemotherapy. There is little risk to visitors (including children, babies and pregnant women) because they aren’t likely to come into contact with any chemotherapy drugs or body fluids.
The safety measures listed below are recommended for people who are providing care or have other close contact with you during the recovery period at home. If you have questions, talk to your treatment team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Chemotherapy safety at home
There are simple and effective ways to reduce exposure to chemotherapy drugs at home, both for you and your family and friends. Safety precautions will vary depending on the drugs you receive, so ask your treatment team what you need to do at home.
Clean up spillsKeep a supply of cleaning cloths, paper towels and disposable waterproof gloves handy. During the week after a treatment session, clean up any body fluids or chemotherapy drugs that spill onto household surfaces. Put on waterproof gloves, soak up the spill with paper towel, clean around the area with a disposable cloth and soapy water, and rinse the area with water. Put used gloves, cloths and paper towels into a plastic bag, and then into a second plastic bag (this is called double-bagging). This can then be put in the household rubbish bin.
Use a plastic bucketIf you need to vomit, use a plastic bowl or bucket (or a thick plastic bag with no holes). Empty into the toilet and flush the toilet twice. Don’t use the bowl or bucket for anything else and throw it out after your final chemotherapy session.
Wear disposable glovesIn the week after a chemotherapy treatment session, wear disposable waterproof gloves when handling containers, clothing or bedsheets soiled with vomit or other body fluids. After use, double-bag the gloves and put them in the household rubbish bin.
Take care going to the toiletFor a week after a chemotherapy treatment session, both men and women are encouraged to sit down to use the toilet. Put the lid down before flushing to avoid splashing. Flush the toilet with a full flush, then wash your hands with soap and water.
Keep medicines in a safe placeStore all tablets, capsules or injections as directed by your oncologist or pharmacist – they often need special storage to keep them effective and safe. Keep them out of reach of children and do not store them in a pill organiser with other medicines.
Keep tablets wholeDon’t crush, chew or cut chemotherapy tablets. If you can’t swallow a tablet whole, ask your oncologist or pharmacist whether the drug comes in other forms, such as a liquid or can be dissolved.
Handle laundry carefullyWash items soiled with body fluids – such as clothing, bedsheets and towels – straightaway. Use the longest washing machine cycle (hot or cold water can be used) and wash separately from other laundry.
Practise safe sexIf having any type of sex, use barrier contraception, such as a condom, female condom or dental dam, to protect your partner from any chemotherapy drugs that may be present in your body fluids.
Pregnancy and breastfeedingAvoid getting pregnant, or getting your partner pregnant, while having chemotherapy. If you are planning to have a baby, speak to your doctor about the timing for pregnancy. If you already have a baby, you will not be able to breastfeed during treatment.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Prof Timothy Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA; Graham Borgas, Consumer: Dr Joanna Dewar, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Professor, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Angela Kritikos, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Dietetic Department, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Kate Mahon, Director of Medical Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Marissa Ryan, Acting Consultant Pharmacist (Cancer Services), Pharmacy Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD.
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