Chemotherapy safety

Chemotherapy is strong medicine, so it is safest for people without cancer to avoid direct contact with the drugs. That’s why oncology nurses and doctors wear gloves, goggles, gowns and, sometimes, masks. When the treatment session is over, these items are disposed of in special bags or bins.

After each chemotherapy session, the drugs may remain in your body for up to a week. This depends on the types of drugs used. The drugs are then released into urine, faeces and vomit. They could also be passed to other body fluids such as saliva, sweat, semen and breast milk.


Chemotherapy safety in the home

Some people having chemotherapy worry about the safety of family and friends. 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 below are recommended for family or friends who are providing care or have other close contact during the recovery period at home. If you have questions, talk to your treatment team or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Safety precautions can vary depending on the drugs you receive, so ask your treatment team about your individual situation.

  • Avoid splashing – For a week after a treatment session, sit down to use the toilet. Put the lid down before flushing to avoid splashing.
  • Use a special bowl or bucket – Vomit into a plastic bowl or bucket (or a plastic bag with no holes). Don’t use the bowl or bucket for anything else and throw it out after your final chemotherapy session.
  • Mop up spills – Keep a supply of cleaning cloths, paper towels and disposable waterproof gloves handy. If any body fluids (during the week after a treatment session) or chemotherapy drugs spill onto household surfaces, follow these steps:
    • Put on a pair of waterproof gloves.
    • Soak up the spill with paper towels.
    • Clean around the area with a disposable cloth and soapy water.
    • Rinse the area with water.
    • Seal used gloves, cloths and paper towels in a plastic bag before putting them in the bin.
  • Wear gloves – During the week after a treatment session, wear disposable waterproof gloves when handling clothing or bed sheets soiled with vomit or other body fluids, such as urine or faeces. Seal the gloves in a plastic bag and discard after use.
  • Wash separately – Wash items soiled with body fluids in a separate load in a washing machine on the longest cycle (hot or cold water can be used). Line dry the items.
  • Use condoms – Use a condom or a female condom if having any type of sex within 7 days of a chemotherapy session. Your doctor or nurse can give you more detail about when you need to use protection.
  • Avoid pregnancy and breastfeeding – Avoid pregnancy while you are having chemotherapy. If you have a baby, you will not be able to breastfeed during your course of chemotherapy.
  • Keep tablets whole – Don’t crush, chew or cut chemotherapy tablets. If you can’t swallow a tablet whole, talk to your treatment team or pharmacist.
  • Store carefully – Store all chemotherapy tablets, capsules or injections as directed by your doctor 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.
Read more about chemotherapy safety in the home

This information was last reviewed in August 2016
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