- Cancer Information
- Cancer treatment
- Managing chemotherapy side effects
- How chemotherapy affects the blood
If white blood cell numbers drop during chemotherapy, it can lower your immunity. This makes you more likely to get infections and less able to fight any infections that do occur. Your doctor may recommend antibiotics as a precaution against infection.
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 get low levels of neutrophils. This is known as neutropenia.
If you have neutropenia, you may be given an injection of growth factor drugs called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) after chemotherapy to encourage the bone marrow to make more white blood cells. 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.
During chemotherapy treatment, even a minor infection could become serious quickly. See When to seek medical help for when you need to contact your doctor urgently.
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.
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.
Dr Prunella Blinman, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, and Clinical Senior Lecturer, Sydney Medical School, The University of Sydney, NSW; Gillian Blanchard, Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and Conjoint Lecturer, School of Nursing and Midwifery, The University of Newcastle, NSW; Julie Bolton, Consumer; Keely Gordon-King, Psychologist, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; John Jameson, Consumer; Dr Zarnie Lwin, Medical Oncologist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, and Senior Lecturer, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Dr Felicia Roncolato, Medical Oncology Staff Specialist, Macarthur Cancer Therapy Centre, NSW. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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