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Treating the cause of your fever

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This page tells you about treating the cause of your fever. There is information about

 

Treating the cancer itself

Fevers caused by the tumour often stop when you have successful cancer treatment. If you have this type of fever, your doctor will try to relieve your fever symptoms in the meantime. But the fevers do tend to return if the cancer comes back.

 

Treating infections

The type of infection will determine the treatment you have. Treatment will depend on whether you have a

Bacterial infections are treated with drugs called antibiotics. Your doctor will take blood tests and possibly some swabs as soon as he or she suspects that you have an infection.

Then you will start a course of broad spectrum antibiotics. These are antibiotics that can fight a wide range of different infections. It is very important to try and start fighting the infection immediately. Your doctor will want to start the antibiotics that are most likely to help you, but won't know for sure which are the right ones until your tests are back.

Once your test results come back, which can take a few days, your doctor will hopefully know exactly what is causing your infection. If your antibiotics are not right for the infection you have, your doctor will change them. Many doctors will continue with broad spectrum antibiotics as well. This is to try and prevent other infections developing.

If you have an infection while you have a low white cell count, you are most likely to have antibiotics into a vein in your arm (intravenously). You will need to have them for about 5 to 7 days. There are many types of broad spectrum antibiotics. Common examples include

  • The broad spectrum penicillins including piperacillin (it is important to tell your doctor of any known penicillin allergy)
  • Ceftazidime
  • Imipenim
  • Vancomycin
  • Ciprofloxacin

Viral infections are treated with different types of drugs called anti virals. Aciclovir is a drug for viral infections, such as herpes simplex or varicella zoster. Drugs called ganciclovir and foscarnet (Foscavir) are used to treat a virus called cytomegalovirus. Foscarnet is also useful in treating herpes simplex virus that is not responding to aciclovir.

Fungal infections are treated with anti-fungal drugs. These include

  • Amphotericin
  • Miconazole
  • Fluconazole
  • Itraconazole
  • Posaconazole
 

Treatment at home

If the doctor thinks there is only a low risk of you becoming very unwell from an infection, you may be able to go home, and take the drugs you need to treat it as tablets. This decision must be made by a health care professional, who has experience looking after people with infections after cancer treatment. They will tell you what to look out for and what do if you do become unwell. It is important that you go back to the hospital straight away if you do have any problems. 

 

Preventing fever and infection

If you have a low white blood cell count, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, to try to help prevent infections. You may hear these called prophylactic antibiotics. Prophylactic (pronounced prof-ill-ak-tick) means preventative. You can also have prophylactic anti fungal and anti viral drugs.

Your doctor may also prescribe you with growth factor drugs. Growth factors are natural substances that stimulate the bone marrow to make blood cells. Some of these substances can now be made artificially and given as treatments to increase the number of white blood cells and stem cells in the blood. This can reduce the time you are at risk of infection when on chemotherapy.

But not everyone on chemotherapy needs growth factor injections. It depends on your disease and the effects of the chemotherapy treatment you are having. G-CSF is a growth factor that is most commonly used for cancers such as leukaemia, non Hodgkin’s lymphoma and myeloma.

Treating other causes

The treatment of your fever depends on the cause. If you have a reaction to a blood transfusion, your nurse will stop the transfusion straight away. You may need to have some drugs to stop the reaction. If your fever is a side effect of drugs, simply stopping or changing your medication will stop the fever.

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Updated: 4 September 2012