Do’s and Don’ts to Avoid Infection

By Brooke Showell

Chemotherapy can save your life. But in addition to killing cancer cells, it also destroys white blood cells, which protect your body from infection and simple everyday germs. Follow these do's and don'ts to stay safe and protect yourself.


  • Eat a varied diet. Try to incorporate at least five servings of colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables each day; these contain essential antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Vary the veggies and fruits you eat to get a cross-section of nutritional benefits (some good bets: berries, apples, bananas, tomatoes, spinach, kale and broccoli). To ensure safety, wash outer skins thoroughly (scrub with an antibacterial food wash) and cook to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Bypass any unwashed, unpeeled or uncooked food.
  • Wash your hands often. Keep hands clean by scrubbing with soap and warm water (spend at least 20 seconds each time). Wash your hands frequently, especially after handling food, money, animals or waste.
  • Keep away from people with illnesses. Steer clear of anyone with symptoms of a cold, flu, sore throat or vomiting, and avoid kids who may have been exposed to childhood infections like chickenpox. If you visit shopping malls or movie theaters, go during less hectic times whenever possible.
  • Brush your teeth. Keep your mouth clean by brushing frequently, especially after meals. Use a soft toothbrush; a more abrasive one might cause your gums to bleed and that can increase the risk of infection. Your doctor may even prescribe an antiseptic mouthwash to use after meals and before you go to bed.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Sunburned skin is vulnerable to infection, so stay out of direct sunlight as much as possible during treatment. Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and put on a protective floppy hat and cover-up.


  • Hurt yourself. To prevent common injuries or accidents, be careful when you're near blades or knives, such as shaving or cooking. Care for cuts promptly. Wash wounds carefully and cover them with antibiotic cream and a bandage.
  • Skip the daily shower. Keep yourself clean by practicing good hygiene. Shower or bathe daily. To lessen the risk of cross infection, don't share towels.
  • Forget to hydrate. Drink lots of fluids to help keep your mouth healthy and your body hydrated, especially in hot weather. Drinking a few extra glasses of water will help flush out your kidneys and bladder and eliminate debris in which bacteria can grow.
Published September 2011

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