Symptoms of infections | Cancer Research UK
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Symptoms of infections

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This page has information on the symptoms of an infection. Remember – infections can sometimes be life threatening. If you've had cancer treatment recently, contact your doctor urgently if you think you might have an infection.

A fever may be the first sign of infection. So if you are having any treatment for cancer and start to feel hot and feverish, it is very important that you contact your doctor. If your white cell count is low, fever may be the only sign of infection you get. Do not wait for other signs before you contact your doctor. Even if it turns out that you don’t have an infection, it is better to find out for sure than wait for things to get more serious.

If you are getting an infection you may have one or more of the following symptoms

  • A temperature of more than 38°C
  • Your skin feels hot to touch
  • Feeling cold or shivery
  • Aching muscles
  • Feeling tired
  • Stinging or pain when you pass urine
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headache
  • Feeling confused or dizzy
  • Sore mouth or pain when swallowing
  • Coughing or shortness of breath
  • Pain, redness, discharge, swelling or heat at the site of a wound or intravenous line such as a central line or PICC line
  • Pain anywhere in your body that was not there before your treatment

An increase in your temperature to 38 °C or higher may be the first clue that you have an infection. You should contact your GP or cancer centre immediately. You may need injections of antibiotics to control the infection.

Remember some types of painkiller such as paracetamol and ibuprofen are anti pyretics, meaning they bring down temperatures. Taking these may disguise that you have an infection. So if you feel at all unwell contact your doctor.

There are some helpful hints on how to avoid getting an infection when your white cell count is low in our chemotherapy section. These tips are also relevant to other treatments that lower your white cell count.

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Updated: 25 April 2014