Blood cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma, can impact the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections. Here’s what you need to know about infections and blood cancer:

Impact of Blood Cancer on Immune Function

  1. Weakened Immune System:
    • Blood cancers can disrupt the production and function of normal blood cells, including white blood cells (leukocytes), which are crucial for fighting infections.
    • Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and certain medications used to treat blood cancers can further suppress the immune system, reducing its ability to respond to infections.
  2. Risk Factors for Infections:
    • Neutropenia: Many blood cancer treatments can cause neutropenia, a condition characterized by a low level of neutrophils (a type of white blood cell). Neutrophils are essential for fighting bacterial and fungal infections.
    • Low Immunoglobulin Levels: Some blood cancers and treatments can lower levels of immunoglobulins (antibodies), which help the body recognize and fight infections.

Common Types of Infections

  1. Bacterial Infections:
    • Sepsis: Neutropenia increases the risk of severe bacterial infections that can lead to sepsis, a life-threatening condition requiring immediate medical attention.
    • Skin Infections: Skin and soft tissue infections are common, as the skin serves as a barrier against bacteria.
  2. Fungal Infections:
    • Candidiasis: Fungal infections, such as candidiasis (yeast infection), can occur in the mouth, throat (oral thrush), or other mucous membranes.
    • Aspergillosis: Invasive fungal infections, like aspergillosis, may affect the lungs or other organs, particularly in immunocompromised individuals.
  3. Viral Infections:
    • Herpesviruses: Reactivation of herpesviruses, such as herpes simplex virus (HSV) or varicella-zoster virus (VZV), can cause cold sores, shingles, or other viral illnesses.
    • Respiratory Viruses: Blood cancer patients are at increased risk for respiratory viral infections, including influenza (flu) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Prevention and Management Strategies

  1. Infection Prevention:
    • Hand Hygiene: Regular handwashing with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizers reduces the spread of infections.
    • Avoidance of Sick Individuals: Minimize close contact with individuals who are sick or have contagious illnesses.
    • Food Safety: Practice food safety measures to prevent foodborne illnesses.
  2. Vaccinations:
    • Recommended Vaccines: Blood cancer patients should receive vaccinations as recommended by their healthcare provider, including annual flu vaccines and vaccinations against pneumococcus (pneumonia).
  3. Prophylactic Treatments:
    • Antibiotics: Some patients may receive prophylactic antibiotics to prevent bacterial infections during periods of neutropenia.
    • Antifungal Therapy: Antifungal medications may be prescribed to prevent fungal infections in high-risk patients.
  4. Monitoring and Early Intervention:
    • Symptom Recognition: Be vigilant for signs of infection, such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, unusual fatigue, or pain, and report symptoms promptly to your healthcare team.
    • Regular Monitoring: Blood tests, such as complete blood counts (CBCs), are performed regularly to monitor blood cell counts and detect early signs of infection or complications.


Managing infections is a critical aspect of care for individuals with blood cancers due to the increased susceptibility caused by the disease itself and its treatments. By understanding the risks, practicing preventive measures, staying informed about vaccinations, and promptly reporting any symptoms of infection, patients and healthcare providers can work together to minimize risks and optimize outcomes in the management of blood cancers.

By Sue