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High Alert: Recognizing the Signs of Infection

Fighting cancer increases your risk of infection

Whatever type of cancer you are fighting, your body is at an increased risk of developing an infection because your disease is affecting the body’s normal defense against the infection. Since we know drugs and diseases that can decrease the normal body defenses against infection and the types of infection likely to occur in patients, most types of infection are potentially preventable and often treatable.

When your white blood cell count is low you may NOT have the usual signs and symptoms when developing an infection such as:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pus formation (at the site of an injury or incision)
  • Cough
  • Sputum
  • Nasal drainage (from a sinus or respiratory infection)

It is extremely important to be alert to any change in how you feel and report and discuss what you are feeling with your doctor or nurse. Your health care provider will tell you when you are getting treatment that may cause your white blood cell count to be lowered. Additional information to ask is when the white blood counts will most likely be at its low point. This will give you a gauge as to when your body is less likely to be able to fight off infection.

When to call your health care provider about the possibility of infection

Call immediately if you have: 

  • A temperature greater than or equal to 100.5°F. (Check with your health care provider, you may be instructed to call for temperature greater than 100°F).
  • Chills (rigors) or shakes
  • Sudden onset of a new unexplained pain.

Call within 24 hours if you experience the following:

  • Sore throat
  • Sores in your mouth
  • A white coating in your mouth, especially your tongue
  • Signs of a bladder infection
  • Burning with urination
  • Blood in your urine
  • Needing to urinate more frequently than normal

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