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Why call the doctor if I have a temperature?

Why do I need to call the doctor if I get a high temperature during my chemotherapy?

This advice is given to people having chemotherapy because the treatment kills healthy white blood cells as well as cancer cells. And white blood cells are part of your defence against infection.

When the white blood cells are low, bacteria can quickly increase in the blood. When you are having chemotherapy you may not have enough white blood cells to fight the bacteria. So a minor infection can become life threatening within hours.

An increase in your temperature to 38 degrees Celsius or higher may be the first clue that you have an infection. Other signs of infection are feeling cold and shivery, a headache, a sore throat, and aching muscles. You should contact your cancer centre immediately. You may need antibiotics by injection or through a drip to control the infection. Tablets may not be enough. 

Some infections can be life threatening if they are not quickly treated. Neither you or your doctor can tell whose fever may develop into a severe illness, so all possible infections must be treated urgently. Your doctor won't think you are making a fuss about something minor. It is better to be on the safe side.

There is detailed information about chemotherapy, chemotherapy side effects and our living with chemotherapy section.

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Updated: 19 April 2013