B-Cell Lymphoma: Protect Your Immune System

Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on December 16, 2020

B-cell lymphoma and the treatment you get for it can weaken your immune system -- your body's defense against germs. But there are simple steps you can take to help shield yourself from infections.

Why Your Resistance Is Lower With B-Cell Lymphoma

B cells are a type of white blood cell that helps your body fight off germs. If you have B-cell lymphoma, these immune cells are abnormal and can't protect you as well.

When treatments like chemotherapy and stem cell transplants destroy lymphoma cells, they also damage the part of your bone marrow where new immune cells are made. This leaves you with fewer immune cells to guard against germs.

Your immune system will build back up in the months after you finish treatment. In the meantime, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics to prevent you from getting sick.

Wash Up

Every time you touch common surfaces like countertops or doorknobs, germs hitch a ride on your hands. Then when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, those germs travel straight into your body.

To kill germs, wash your hands with warm water and soap. Especially do this:

  • Before you cook or eat food
  • After you use the bathroom
  • When you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose
  • After you touch public objects like doorknobs or handrails

Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you for times when you can't find soap and water.

Take a warm shower or bath every day. Pay special attention to areas where sweat collects, like your underarms, groin, and the bottom of your feet.

Wash extra well after you have a bowel movement. Wear a pair of disposable gloves to clean a baby's diaper or when you pick up after a pet.

Avoid Sick People

Though you can't hide from every virus and bacteria, you can cut down how often you're near them.

Try to stay away from anyone who coughs or sneezes. Avoid crowded places like movie theaters, busy restaurants, and theme parks. Also keep out of pools and hot tubs, where germs spread easily.

Don't share personal items like glasses, utensils, and toothbrushes with anyone, even people who look healthy.

Stay Up to Date on Vaccines

Ask your doctor which shots you need and when to get them. Vaccines will protect you from getting sick, but they're not all safe for people with lymphoma. Avoid vaccines made from live viruses or bacteria, like the flu nasal sprays and measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) shot.

Because your immune system is weaker, there's a chance these vaccines could make you sick. The flu shot is safe for people with lymphoma because it's made from dead flu viruses.

You might need to get your vaccines a few weeks before or after your cancer treatment. For vaccines to work, your immune system needs to respond to them. Chemotherapy and other treatments can lower your immune response so much that the vaccine won't protect you.

Your friends and family can help you stay safe from germs. Make sure everyone around you is up to date on their vaccines so they don't infect you.

Try to Avoid Nicks and Scrapes

Bacteria can get inside your body through open wounds. Try not to cut, scrape, or nick your skin. Be careful when you use knives, scissors, and sharp tools.

You can also stay safe if you follow these tips when taking care of your skin, nails, and teeth:

  • Use an electric shaver instead of a razor.
  • Cut your fingernails and toenails straight across, and don't make them too short.
  • Skip nail salon manicures and pedicures.
  • Brush your teeth with a soft toothbrush.
  • Ask your doctor if it's safe for you to floss.
  • Don't pick or pop pimples.

If you do cut yourself, wash the area with warm water and soap. Then put an antiseptic medicine on your skin.

Wash and Cook Food

Raw fruits and vegetables can have germs on the outside. Wash them with soap and water, even if they have a peel. Or cook them before eating.

Make sure meat, poultry, eggs, and fish are heated all the way through.

Avoid foods that are risky for people with a weak immune system, such as:

  • Soft cheeses like Brie, Stilton, and Camembert
  • Unpasteurized milk and juices
  • Smoked deli meats like salami and ham
  • Prepackaged salads, and foods from salad bars
  • Raw honey

Treat Your Body Right

Your whole body, including your immune system, works better when you take good care of it. Eat a well-balanced diet. Get extra rest to help you recover from treatment.

You can also help yourself by making your life less tense. Stress cuts the number of infection-fighting white blood cells you have.

To curb stress, try relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing. You can also work with a therapist or counselor to manage stressful events in your life.

Watch for Signs of Infection

Getting sick can be riskier when you have cancer. Tell your doctor right away if you have symptoms like:

  • Fever of 100.5 F or higher
  • Chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Burning when you pee
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina
  • Redness, pain, or swelling around a cut or sore

Show Sources


American Cancer Society: "Preventing Infections in People with Cancer," "Vaccination During Cancer Treatment."

Cancer.Net: "Infection."

Cleveland Clinic: "What Happens When Your Immune System Gets Stressed Out?"

Health Direct: "Complications of non-Hodgkin Lymphoma."

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: "Infections," "Flu Shots and Immunizations."

Lymphoma Action: "Lymphoma and the immune system," "Neutropenia and risk of infection."

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