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Secondary Infections in Cancer Treatment

People who have received cancer treatment are at a high risk of developing an infection. It can be due to their weakened immune system after undergoing various treatments. You may believe that you are out of the woods once your treatment is over. You should note that the infections are a matter of concern. It is one of the causes of mortalities in cancer patients. But the good thing is that you can be a step ahead and be careful enough to stay safe.

Secondary infections after treatment

Once the treatment is over, cancer patients might be at risk of infections. Your weakened immune response may lead to infections from bacteria, viruses, allergens, etc. After exposure to several harmful chemicals and radiation during the treatment, your immune system becomes weak. Such infections are known as secondary infections. These infections can cause complications and even death in cancer patients in remission.

You should be extra careful if you are a cancer patient or a caregiver. You need to be aware of the toxins present in your environment. Avoid exposure to any kinds of toxins, allergens, or any environmental factors as much as possible. You cannot give in to cancer after going through the hard part of the journey. 

Signs and symptoms of secondary infections

If you see anything unusual or have any difficulty, you always consult with your doctor without any delay. There are many symptoms that one might have. These symptoms may go away on their own or may last for a long duration. In any case, you should always refer to your specialist and clear your doubts right away. We will discuss some of the symptoms here. The symptoms are:

  • You may have a persistent fever of more than 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • You may have night sweats or chill, which may be followed by fever
  • Your throat might hurt due to sore
  • Persistent coughing and shortness of breath
  • Running or congested nose
  • Pain or burning sensation while peeing
  • Blood might show up in your urine
  • Your tongue has a white coating
  • Sudden redness, itchiness, or swelling in your body parts
  • Swelling, pain, and pus formation in the area nearby the surgical wound
  • Stomach or abdomen pain
  • Nagging headache and pain in sinuses
  • Stiffness in your neck
  • Your ears might hurt

Apart from these, we will discuss some of the common sites of infections. These are:

  • Your whole digestive tract which includes the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, and intestine
  • Lungs and other respiratory parts
  • Your urinary system ie, kidney and bladder
  • Skin and inner linings of mouth, vagina, and intestines
  • Your nervous system which includes the brain and nerves
  • The skin around the CVC(central venous catheter)

The risk involved with surgery

Surgery is very commonly used to treat cancer patients. Surgery can also leave the immune system weak. The use of anaesthesia can make your immunity weak. It takes many days to months for your immune system to recover fully. The surgery wound or scar can become a site for infection. These wounds expose the internal tissues and make them vulnerable to attack by pathogens. Several factors play a role in infections after the surgery. These are: how long a patient stays at the hospital, percentage of incision, how long was the surgery, amount of blood loss during the surgery, and nutritional status of the patient.

Doctors may prescribe supplements and antibiotics if the patient has additional problems like heart disease, or has undergone chemo or radiation, etc.

The risk involved with chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can adversely affect the immune system and make the patient vulnerable to infections. The drugs used in chemo do not differentiate between the healthy cells and the cancer cells and kill them all. The type and dosage of the drug greatly affect the patients. Other factors are age, history of the patient’s treatment, stage of cancer, and the nutritional status of the patient. Some chemo drugs affect the immune system more than others. It might take several weeks or months for your immune system to recover.

Radiotherapy and risk of infection

Radiotherapy can also affect the immune system and make the patient an easy target for infections. White blood cell count decreases that in turn weakens the immunity. Several factors affect infection after radiation therapy like dosage and frequency of radiation, the area being radiated, and total body irradiation(TBR). 

Risk of infection after Immunotherapy

Although this treatment bolsters your immune response, it can still make you susceptible to infections. In this treatment, immune system response increases against the cancer cells. But it can also change the immune system functions. It may lead to an increase in certain kinds of lymphocytes. And it also increases the risk of getting infections due to specific types of fungi, bacteria, or viruses. 

Preventive measures and precautions

You must be aware of all the risks involved with the cancer treatments and ways to cope with them. So, you should lean on your oncologists and discuss it in detail. You can always approach them in case of any doubts or uncertainty. Regular follow-ups augmented with precautions will help to stay away from any infections.

We will discuss some preventive measures and precautions that you should follow:

  • First, ask your doctor about the time taken for your immune system to recover fully
  • Wash your hands properly and regularly 
  • Check your tongue for any signs of white coating, sores, or any other signs of infection
  • Sterilise all the IVs and catheters that you use
  • Take an adequate amount of fluids
  • Always stick to the doctor’s plans and instructions
  • Sleep properly for at least 6 to 8 hours
  • Do mild exercise 
  • Do not take OTC unless prescribed by your doctor
  • Use masks when you go out

Summing up

Secondary infections can be life-threatening if you don’t take appropriate actions. Cancer treatments can make your immune system weak and sluggish. So, you need to take preventive measures and precautions to ensure that you don’t catch any infections. Always consult your doctor to know all about your risks and preventive measures to stay away from getting secondary infections.


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