Preparing Your Family and Home for Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy can help you get better. But you’re more likely to get infections when you’re on it. That’s because the drugs that kill cancer also attack your white blood cells, which fight germs.

Your immune system usually goes back to normal after you finish treatment. In the meantime, here are precautions you and your family can take to keep you safe.

How to Prepare Your Home

For starters, you should wash your hands often and stay away from crowds. You should also:

Disinfect surfaces that are touched a lot. You can use soap and water first. That’ll lower the number of germs. Follow that up with a disinfectant. That’s a cleaner that can kill the viruses and bacteria left behind. You may want to keep bleach or sanitizing wipes around your house. Use gloves when you clean.

You may be more sensitive to smells if you’re in chemotherapy. Strong odors from cleaning supplies might make you feel sick. Always open windows and doors while you clean. You can also ask a family member or friend to do some of the disinfecting for you.

You or someone else should disinfect items like these once a day:

  • Tables and countertops
  • Refrigerator handles
  • Phones
  • Keyboards
  • Remote controls
  • Toilets and faucets

Disinfect these items once a week:

  • Trash cans
  • Bathtubs
  • Floors

Flush the toilet two times when you use the bathroom the first 2-3 days after treatment. While wearing gloves, clean the toilet seat if you get pee on it. Do the same thing if you vomit. Chemo drugs can come out in your body fluids. They may bother your skin or someone else’s.

Get a thermometer. You’ll want to check your temperature anytime you feel too hot, too cold, or generally unwell. Tell your doctor right away if you get a fever.

Keep extra face masks. If you have a visitor, ask them to cover their nose and mouth with a cloth face mask. You can wear one too. This extra barrier may slow the spread of infections.

Get rid of fresh flowers or live plants. They could bring germs into the house.

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Talk to your doctor about pets. It might be OK to keep your furry friends. But your health care team may want you to take extra steps to stay safe. Some examples include:

  • Don’t play with animals that bite or scratch.
  • Trim your pet’s claws.
  • Don’t let animals lick your face.
  • Keep your pets inside as much as possible.
  • Get someone else to clean your pet’s waste.

You may have to clean up your pet’s pee, poop, or vomit sometimes. Always wear waterproof disposable gloves if that happens. Disinfect the soiled area. Throw the dirty gloves away and wash your hands.

You shouldn’t be around certain animals during chemotherapy. These include:

  • Reptiles, like snakes or turtles
  • Chickens and ducks
  • Rodents, like hamsters or mice
  • Exotic animals, like monkeys

Other Steps You and Your Family Can Take

Wash your hands often and for at least 20 seconds. Anyone who is around you should do the same. Don’t be shy about asking them to scrub up. It’s best to use regular soap with warm or cold water. Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is the next best option.

Make sure you clean your hands:

  • After you go to the bathroom
  • After you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze
  • After you touch trash
  • After you change diapers or help a child pee or poop
  • After you touch plants or soil.
  • After you touch your pet.
  • Before you make food or eat
  • Before and after you handle your catheter, port, or any device in your skin
  • Before and after you treat a cut or wound

Try to avoid injury. Cuts, burns, and scrapes can get infected. To lessen your chances of getting hurt, you can:

  • Use plastic dishes that won’t break.
  • Wear shoes.
  • Remove portable rugs so you don’t trip.
  • Put a nonslip bathmat or seat in the shower.
  • Get an electric shaver instead of a razor.

If you do get injured, clean your wound with soap, water, and an antiseptic. That’s something like hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol. Cover it with a bandage. Tell your doctor if it gets red or swollen.

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Practice good hygiene. You should bathe or shower with soap and water every day. Brush your teeth twice a day with a soft toothbrush. Ask your health care team if it’s OK to floss. Don’t use an alcohol-based mouthwash.

Stay away from sick people. You shouldn’t get within 6 feet of anyone who might have an infection. If someone in your house becomes ill, they should try to stay in a separate room. They should also try to use a different bathroom for a while.

What Happens if You Get Sick?

If you have a fever, call your doctor or go to the hospital right away. Don’t wait until the morning. If you go to the emergency room, make sure you let them know you’re getting chemotherapy. You’ll need fast treatment. It’s considered a medical emergency if you get an infection while you’re on chemotherapy.

Some signs of infection include:

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on June 09, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: “Cancer Prevention and Control: Preventing Infection in Cancer Patients,” “Coronavirus Disease 2019: Cleaning Your Home; Detailed Disinfection Guidance; People Who Are Immunocompromised,” “Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients: Watch Out for Fever; Clean Your Hands; Know the Signs and Symptoms of Infection.” American Cancer Society: “Watching for and Preventing Infections,” “Chemotherapy Safety,” “Infections and Pet Safety.”

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society: “Caregiving during Treatment.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “Disinfectants 101: 9 things to know.”

Preventcancerinfections.org: “Staying Well While Staying at Home.”

Rogel Cancer Center: “What to Expect from Outpatient Cancer Infusion Therapy.”

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center: “Gift Ideas for Cancer Patients: What to Avoid.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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