Cancer and treatment can weaken your body’s immune system by affecting the blood cells that protect us against disease and germs. As a result, your body can’t fight infection and disease as well as a healthy person’s body can.
Chemotherapy is usually the main reason why immunity is affected. Chemo reduces the number of white blood cells produced by the bone marrow. This reduces your body's defences against infection during and after treatment. You are particularly at risk of getting an infection 7 to 14 days after having chemotherapy, when the level of white blood cells is at its lowest.
This time is called the nadir. It can vary slightly depending on the drugs used. The number of white blood cells will increase steadily and usually return to normal before your next cycle of chemotherapy.
To keep extra safe from infections, follow these food safety tips:
- Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before and after preparing food and before eating.
- Refrigerate foods at or below 40° F.
- Keep hot foods hot (warmer than 140° F) and cold foods cold (cooler than 40° F).
- Thaw meat, fish, or poultry in the refrigerator in a dish to catch drips. Do not thaw at room temperature.
- Use defrosted foods right away, and do not refreeze them.
- Put perishable foods in the refrigerator within 2 hours of buying or preparing them. Egg dishes and cream- and mayonnaise-based foods should not be left unrefrigerated for more than an hour.
- Wash fruits and vegetables well under running water before peeling or cutting. Do not use soaps, detergents, chlorine bleach solutions, or commercial produce rinses. Using a clean vegetable scrubber, scrub produce that has a thick, rough skin or rind (melons, potatoes, bananas, etc.) or any produce that has dirt on it.
- Rinse leaves off leafy vegetables one at a time under running water.
- Rinse packaged salads, slaw mixes, and other prepared produce again under running water, even when marked pre-washed. Using a colander can make this easier.
- Do not eat raw vegetable sprouts.
- Throw away slimy or mouldy fruits and vegetables.
- Do not buy produce that already has been cut at the grocery store (like melon or cabbage).
- Wash tops off canned foods with soap and water before opening.
- Use different utensils for stirring foods and tasting. Do not taste the food (or allow others to taste it) with any utensil that will be put back into the food.
- Throw away eggs with cracked shells.
- Throw out foods that look or smell strange. Never taste them!