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How to Reduce Chances of Infection when Undergoing Cancer Treatment

Updated on April 15, 2013

A patient undergoing cancer treatment has a great risk of re infection with other diseases. This is due to the body’s weakened immune system. The balance between the body’s immune system is affected by the different modes of treatments that the patient is exposed to. These treatments are strong and destabilize the immune system to the point of exposing it to infection.

The bodies immune system consist of different organs that work together to fight disease causing organisms
The bodies immune system consist of different organs that work together to fight disease causing organisms | Source

The Immune System

The immune system is what protects us from diseases and infections. When disease causing organisms find their way into our body, they are fought by the immune system.

The immune system consists of several lines of defense. The first one is the skin. This is what prevents the harmful microorganisms from penetrating into our body. At parts of our body where the inside of the body opens to the outside, a mucous membrane is found which fights off infection from getting to the body. The other line of defense is the proteins found in the body fluids which fight off infection already in the body. Lastly we have the lymph cells which are antibodies involved in vigorously fighting off harmful organisms inside the body. When undergoing treatment for cancer, the common procedures employed are surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

 A radiotherapy session is sometimes needed during cancer treatment. With all the benefits that come with it, it leaves the patient with a weakened immune system
A radiotherapy session is sometimes needed during cancer treatment. With all the benefits that come with it, it leaves the patient with a weakened immune system | Source

Surgery, Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy

Surgery often doesn't pose a risk even though the skin will be opened up exposing the body to infection. This is because the hospital will take care of the wound and cover it properly. However the radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions interferes with the immune system. Chemotherapy reduces the number of white blood cells in the body. The chemotherapy drugs are usually very strong aimed at eliminating the cancer cells but in the process, they also do harm to the white blood cells in the blood. The patient is at the weakest, 7-14 days after receiving a dose of chemotherapy. This is the time that the white blood cells are at a minimum. Radiotherapy interferes with the production of the white blood cells. However, not all forms of radiotherapy are particularly harmful to the immune system. Full body radiotherapy and bone marrow radiotherapy have the biggest effect.

However, since the benefits of these procedures greatly outweigh the risks, it’s better to look at ways in which we can boost the immune system to avoid infection. There are various strategies that one can use.


Careful Food Preparation

Careful preparation of food is one such way through which to reduce the chances of infection when undergoing cancer treatment. Just the way one carefully prepares food for small children, such consideration should also be given to cancer patients. Food preparation and handling is one area on which germs find their way into our body system. Fruits and vegetables should be scrubbed and properly rinsed before they are cooked or consumed. Foods that are impossible to wash adequately should be avoided to reduce the risk of infection. Kitchen utensils that will come into contact with the food whether in the raw form or when they are cooked should be properly washed. These include the knives, dishes and even the countertops. All leftover foods should be placed in the fridge to avoid contamination.

Cook Food Adequately

When cooking food, make sure the food is adequately cooked. This is especially for meat products. If getting them directly from the fridge, let them thaw on the fridge first using the defrosting setting on your fridge. Products such as milk and juices should be heated before consumption because they are likely to have some few disease carrying organisms.

Avoid Crowded Areas

Another strategy for avoiding infection especially when you are on chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment is to avoid crowded areas. In such areas, the risk of contracting air borne diseases is high. Keeping in mind that your immunity is at its lowest, any kind of infection can have an adverse effect on your health. If somebody has got flu or infections such as TB, then avoid staying in the same room as them for long periods of time. In fact do not stay in the same room. Meet them outdoors. Activities such as swimming are considered unsuitable for you during this time. A shared swimming pool can easily transmit disease causing organisms at this time.

A balanced diet goes a long way in helping teh immune system fight off diseases.
A balanced diet goes a long way in helping teh immune system fight off diseases. | Source

Eat a Balanced diet

A varied diet full of fruits and vegetables is a sure way to boost immunity. Some of these foods also help in fighting off cancer cells. A diet that is predominantly plant based foods is better at this time when the immunity is low. This doesn't mean a totally vegetarian diet but not so much on the meat products especially the highly processed ones. Consulting a dietitian would be a good idea so as to have the best guide as to the foods that will greatly aid your immunity.

It is imperative for care givers and relatives of a cancer patient to support them as they fight against cancer. Encouraging them and making sure they feed on a balanced diet with emphasis on vegetables and fruits is important. In case of a doubt on any type of food, consult the doctor.

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