While cancer treatments are essential to allow the patient to confront this health challenge, they can unfortunately result in a weakened immune system. Certain precautions need to be taken to protect the person with cancer.

Protection from infections

It is not uncommon to observe a decrease in blood cells 10 to 14 days following chemotherapy. When the level of white blood cells drops significantly – a condition known as neutropenia – the patient becomes very vulnerable to a range of infections.

Signs and symptoms

  • Fever: a change in body temperature, perhaps only slight, but which persists for several hours.
  • Respiratory tract: development of, or changes in, a cough, accompanied by sputum, difficulty breathing, wheezing, sore throat, etc.
  • Urinary disorders.
  • Changes in the condition of the skin and mucous membranes: reddening or inflammation, swelling, pus formation, or pain.

To protect yourself, avoid the following situations: 

  • Visiting public places: churches, shopping centers, etc.
  • Being in the presence of people who have the flu or a cold, or of sick children or pets.
  • Shaking hands or kissing relatives. However, you can be creative in your affection: “blow” them a kiss, write notes, etc. On the other hand, openness is the best policy to adopt with those around you this period. Inform them of your situation and express clearly what you cannot tolerate in your present state.

Some suggestions for protecting yourself from infection:

  • Pay special attention to the foods you eat.
  • Use a moisturizing lotion to prevent your skin from drying. Dry skin is more susceptible to infections.
  • Take special care with injuries. Disinfect the wound and apply a bandage.
  • Give yourself time to rest and plan the times of your physical activity.

What to eat while undergoing cancer treatments

Since their immune systems may be weakened, it is important for those with cancer to pay particular attention when buying, storing, preparing and cooking food in order to avoid contracting a foodborne illness.

Important Facts

  • At room temperature, the amount of bacteria in food can reach a dangerous level. It is impossible to detect whether a food is safe solely by taste or smell.
  • It is essential for everyone who comes into contact with food to wash their hands before and after handling raw food, and after using the bathroom or touching pets, for example.
  • Food should also be cleaned properly, as should the plates, utensils and surfaces used for their preparation.
  • Meat should be thawed in the refrigerator or a microwave oven, not at room temperature.
  • Some harmful bacteria can multiply on food when the cold chain is not maintained properly. Care has to be taken at every step, from preparation to conservation.

What to avoid:

  • Non-dried deli meats such as mortadella (bologna), roast beef and turkey breast.
  • Raw milk cheese, and soft or semi-soft cheese, such as Brie, Camembert and blue.
  • Preparations based on raw or undercooked eggs as salad dressings and sauces.
  • Be careful of everything raw: smoked salmon, sushi and fish or beef tartare. Make sure that raw fruits and vegetables have been washed and have not been in contact with other raw foods.
  • Salads prepared in grocery stores such as rice, potato, pasta salad, etc.
  • All food sold in bulk, such as nuts and dried fruit.
  • Ice.

Flu shot

Influenza can lead to serious health problems for people with cancer, who often have a weakened immune system as a result of radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Getting vaccinated early in the flu season helps prevent complications. The influenza vaccine is recommended for most people with cancer, but if you’re undergoing treatment, it’s best to talk to your doctor first.

Get the right kind of vaccine

People with cancer should pay attention to the type of vaccine they receive. There are two main types:
  • Live attenuated vaccines. These contain a living infectious agent whose pathogenicity has been mitigated by various methods. This type of vaccine is strongly counter-indicated for people with cancer.
    Inactivated vaccines. These contain infectious agents killed using a chemical or heat. They are completely harmless, even for people undergoing treatment, yet can still generate an immune response.

Avoid the flu!

If you do not want to be vaccinated against the flu or have not yet been vaccinated, you can still follow some basic tips to avoid contracting or spreading it:
  • Wash your hands often. Use soap and warm water or hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes or nose, and do not put your fingers in your mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then deposit the tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Try to stay away from sick people. Maintain a distance of about six feet.
  • Try to stay away from children who spend their days in group situations such as day care or school, where germs spread easily.
In conclusion, the flu vaccine is recommended for people with cancer, but it is better to ask for your oncologist’s opinion first.

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