Chemotherapy is strong medicine, so it is safest for people without cancer to avoid direct contact with the drugs. Oncology nurses and doctors may 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.
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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, 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 in the home
Follow these safety measures to reduce exposure to chemotherapy drugs at home, both for you and your family and friends. Safety precautions can vary depending on the drugs you receive, so ask your treatment team about your individual situation.
Use a plastic bucketIf you need to vomit, use a plastic bowl or bucket (or a 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.
Clean up spillsKeep 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, 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, and rinse the area with water. Put used gloves, cloths and paper towels in a plastic bag, then put the bag in the bin.
Take care going to the toiletFor a week after a treatment session, sit down to use the toilet. Put the lid down before flushing to avoid splashing. Flush the toilet with a full flush twice. If you have a septic or composting system, check with the manufacturer about whether this is safe.
Wear disposable glovesDuring the week after a treatment session, wear disposable waterproof gloves when handling containers, clothing or bedsheets soiled with vomit or other body fluids. Put the gloves in a plastic bag and throw out after use.
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.
Put 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.
Handle laundry carefullyWash items soiled with body fluids, such as clothing, bedsheets and towels, separately from other laundry. Use the longest washing machine cycle (hot or cold water can be used), and wash twice.
Pregnancy and breastfeedingAvoid conceiving while having chemotherapy. If you already have a baby, you will not be able to breastfeed during your course of chemotherapy.
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.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Clinical A/Prof Rosemary Harrup, Director, Cancer and Blood Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Queensland Health, QLD; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Stacey Burton, Consumer; Dr Fiona Day, Staff Specialist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Senior Lecturer, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Andrew Greig, Consumer; Steve Higgs, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.
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