Infection happens when harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi enter a site in the body and reproduce. If you're being treated for breast cancer, your immune system may not be functioning at full strength, so you may be at higher risk for infection. Once you're done with treatment, your immune system returns to functioning normally and your risk of infection also returns to normal.
The lungs, mouth, throat, sinuses, and skin are common places for infection. The blood stream and the urinary system are also more open to infection during breast cancer treatment. Sometimes the place on your body where medicines are injected can react or become infected. This is called an injection site reaction.
Signs of infection include:
- redness, swelling, warmth, or pus at the site of injury, surgical wound, or injection
- cough or shortness of breath
- mucus or pus in the saliva
- nasal drainage
- fever of 100.5 degrees F or higher
- sore throat
- burning sensation while urinating
- chills or shakes
All breast cancer treatments can raise your risk of infection:
- radiation therapy
- hormonal therapy:
- some targeted therapies:
- Afinitor (chemical name: everolimus)
- Avastin (chemical name: bevacizumab)
- Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab)
- Herceptin Hylecta (chemical name: trastuzumab and hyaluronidase-oysk)
- Herzuma (chemical name: trastuzumab-pkrb)
- Ibrance (chemical name: palbociclib)
- Ontruzant (chemical name: trastuzumab-dttb)
- Tykerb (chemical name: lapatanib)
- Verzenio (chemical name: abemaciclib)
- Tecentriq (chemical name: atezolizumab), an immunotherapy
Some pain medications also can raise your risk of infection.
Preventing infection during breast cancer treatment
If you have signs of an infection, call your doctor right away. Medicines may be available to help fight the cause and ease any symptoms you have.
Here are some other tips to follow to avoid infection:
- Avoid large crowds of people during cold and flu season. Germs can spread easily through coughing and sneezing.
- Wash your hands often, especially after handshaking, before touching food, after using the restroom, or after petting animals.
- Shower daily to keep your body clean. Keep your skin moisturized with lotion or oil after showering to prevent drying and cracking.
- Brush your teeth twice daily. Use a soft brush, and mouthwash without alcohol. Don’t use floss -- it could cause cuts in your gums.
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
- Wear gloves when gardening, washing dishes, and cleaning.
- Clean your dishes with hot water.
- Cook all of your food including vegetables, fruits, and grain products.
- Wear shoes or slippers as often as possible to protect your feet and to keep germs off the skin of your feet.
- Avoid professional manicures and pedicures -- a tear or cut in your cuticle could become infected.
- Shave with an electric razor to minimize cuts.
- Stay out of hot tubs and saunas -- bacteria and other microorganisms can thrive in them.
- Avoid cleaning or dusting areas that have not been cleaned in a while. Fungus spores can live in dust.
- Don't share bath towels, drinking glasses, or anything else that can spread germs.
- Don't use tampons, suppositories, or douche -- they can spread infection.
- Use water-based lubricants during sexual intercourse to avoid abrasions.
- Get a flu shot at least 2 weeks before chemotherapy or in between cycles.
- Clean cuts, scrapes, or burns immediately with soap and warm water. Treat the wound with antibiotic cream and protect the area with a clean bandage. Clean the wound and replace the bandage every time the area it gets dirty or wet. Look for signs of infection and tell your doctor immediately if it becomes infected.