- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Managing chemotherapy side effects
- How chemotherapy affects the blood
Chemotherapy can reduce your white blood cell level, making it harder for your body to fight infections. Viruses such as colds, flu and COVID-19 may be easier to catch and harder to shake off, and scratches or cuts may get infected more easily.
You may also be more likely to develop a serious infection without an obvious cause and need to be admitted to hospital. Your doctor may recommend antibiotics as a precaution against infection. See below for some other ways to reduce your risk of getting an infection.
Learn more about:
The role of white blood cells
Many types of white blood cells make up the total white cell count. A type of white blood cell known as a neutrophil protects you against infection by destroying harmful bacteria and yeasts that enter the body. During chemotherapy, some people have low levels of neutrophils. This is known as neutropenia.
To speed up the production of new white blood cells and protect you from infection, your doctor may give you injections of a growth factor drug called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF). Your doctor or nurse will speak to you about possible side effects.
Some people may experience bone pain or tenderness at the injection site or show signs of an allergic reaction. Let your doctor know if you have any of these side effects.
Taking care with infections during chemotherapy
Here are some tips to reduce your risk of infection during chemotherapy, and advice on when to seek medical help.
Reduce your risk
When to seek medical help
To prevent the spread of infection:
Contact your doctor or go to the nearest hospital emergency department immediately if you experience one or more of the following symptoms:
After chemotherapy I became very susceptible to infections. A small scrape can quickly become serious. But when I feel like an infection is coming on, I’ve learnt to see my doctor straightaway.Brigita
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Ask a health professional or someone who’s been there, or find a support group or forum
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment