Why might I be more likely to get an infection?

People with secondary breast cancer are often at increased risk of infection for many reasons including:

  • Many anticancer drugs can cause neutropenia, which is a reduction in the number of your white blood cells that fight infection
  • Removal of lymph nodes during past or recent breast surgery (e.g. from the armpit) can damage the lymphatic system, which plays a role in fighting infections
  • If your body is weaker than usual, you’re more likely to get an infection
  • Any surgery to treat cancer or its symptoms comes with a risk of infection

Reducing your risk of infection

Infections can be dangerous, especially if your body and immune system is weak. Your treatment team will assess your risk of infection and may suggest ways to reduce this.

Changes or additions to your treatment that can help to reduce your risk include:

  • If you have a low white blood cell count (neutropenia), you may need to have a break from anticancer drugs or reduce the dose, so your immune system can get stronger
  • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and antifungals to take as a precaution against infections
  • Your doctor may suggest you take granulocyte colony stimulating factor (G-CSF). G-CSF helps your body to produce more white blood cells, which fight infection

Your treatment team will let you know what day-to-day things you can do to reduce your chances of infection, such as avoiding people who are unwell and not eating certain foods.

They‘ll also let you know the signs of infection you should look out for, and when to seek immediate medical treatment.

If you develop a fever and have a low white blood cell count (neutropenia), you may need to be admitted to hospital to receive intravenous antibiotics.

Tips and advice

Advice on getting the best care

To help you feel confident you’re getting the best care, you may want to:

  • Make sure you have information from your treatment team on the signs of infection, and how to reduce your risk
  • If you have a fever or other signs of infection, contact your GP or treatment team immediately, so you can get treatment quickly

Information Standard

Information last reviewed: October 2015

Breast Cancer Now's health information is covered by NHS England's Information Standard quality mark. Find out how this resource was developed.