Atlanta, Georgia, USA: “In honor of #NationalCancerSurvivorsDay, get the facts about how certain #cancer treatments can increase your risk of developing an infection that could lead to sepsis. #GetAheadofSepsis” the The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wrote in a public post today, Sunday.
Citing the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID) and the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion (DHQP), CDC says “In your fight against cancer, arm yourself with the facts about infection and sepsis. Having cancer and certain treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, can put you at higher risk of developing an infection and sepsis. Getting an infection or developing sepsis is a medical emergency. Either condition can delay your treatment, put you in the hospital or be deadly”
According to the CDC, having cancer and undergoing certain treatments for cancer, such as chemotherapy, can make your body unable to fight off infections the way it normally would.
Chemotherapy works by killing the fastest-growing cells in your body—both good and bad. This means that along with killing cancer cells, chemo also kills your infection-fighting white blood cells.
An infection or sepsis can happen at any time. However, when your body has very low levels of a certain type of white blood cell (neutrophils), that increases your risk of getting an infection that can lead to sepsis. This condition is a common side effect of chemo called neutropenia.
A low white blood cell count, or neutropenia, can put people with cancer at risk for getting an infection. Neutropenia is life threatening and it is one of the most dangerous side effects of chemotherapy. 60,000 cancer patients in the U.S. are hospitalized each year because of this neutropenia side effect. One in 14 (or 4,100) will die from this complication.
Your doctor will routinely test for neutropenia by checking the level of your white blood cells (neutrophils).
Difference between infection and sepsis
An infection occurs when germs enter a person’s body and multiply, causing illness, organ and tissue damage, or disease. For cancer patients, an infection can turn serious,or even deadly, very fast.
Sepsis (also called septicemia) is a complication caused by the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection which can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death. For a person with cancer, any infection that is anywhere in your body can lead to sepsis, CDC says.
Signs and symptoms of an infection
Watch for signs of an infection, such as:
• Fever, chills or sweats
• Redness, soreness, or swelling in any area, including surgical wounds and ports
• Diarrhea and/or vomiting
• Sore throat, cough or nasal congestion
• New sore in the mouth
• Shortness of breath
• Stiff neck
• Unusual vaginal discharge or irritation
• New onset of pain
• Changes in skin, urination, or mental status
Signs and symptoms of sepsis
Sepsis is a bad outcome from an infection. There is no single sign or symptom of sepsis. It is, rather, a combination of symptoms. Symptoms can include any of the above infection symptoms, plus the following:
Shivering, fever, or very cold
Extreme pain or discomfort
Clammy, or sweaty skin
Confusion or disorientation
Short of breath
How to prevent an infection
In addition to receiving treatment from your doctor, the CDC says the following suggestions can help reduce your risk for getting an infection:
• Wash your hands often and ask others around you to do the same.
• Avoid crowded places and people who are sick.
• Talk to your doctor about getting a flu shot or other vaccinations.
• Take a bath or shower every day (unless told otherwise).
• Use an unscented lotion to try to keep your skin from getting dry or cracked.
• Clean your teeth and gums with a soft toothbrush.
• Use a mouthwash to prevent mouth sores (if your doctor recommends one).
• Do not share food, drink cups, utensils or other personal items, such as toothbrushes.
• Cook meat and eggs all the way through to kill any germs.
• Carefully wash raw fruits and vegetables.
• Protect your skin from direct contact with pet bodily waste (urine or feces).
• Wash your hands immediately after touching an animal or removing its waste, even after wearing gloves.
• Use gloves for gardening.
What to do if you think you have an infection or sepsis
• Call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately if you have any signs or symptoms of an infection or sepsis. This is a medical emergency.
• It’s important that you say, “I HAVE CANCER AND AM CONCERNED ABOUT INFECTION AND SEPSIS.”