Other causes of fever

Apart from your treatment, there are a number of other reasons why you might get a fever when you have cancer. 

Drug side effects

Some drugs can cause a fever, for example:

  • vancomycin
  • amphotericin
  • bleomycin
  • allopurinol
  • nivolumab
  • rituxumab
  • zoledronic acid or zoledronate (Zometa)

If you get a fever your nurse might need to stop or slow down the infusion if you’re having it through a drip. It will depend on how you react to the drug. Drugs affect people in different ways and not all people having these drugs will develop a fever.

You may need medicine like paracetamol, antihistamine or steroids to help you if you do have a reaction.  

Blood or blood products

You might have a reaction to a blood or blood product transfusion. The first sign is often fever and shivering. It happens because the donated blood or blood product contains cells and antibodies from the donor's immune system. Your body can react to these cells because they are different to your own cells.

Doctors try to lower the risk of transfusion reactions for patients most at risk. So for example, if you're having a blood transfusion. They can remove most of the white blood cells from the blood and irradiate the blood before transfusing it.

The nurses will keep a close eye on you for any signs of a reaction. It's not uncommon for your temperature to go up slightly when you have a transfusion.

This is not the same as having a reaction and is quite safe. Your nurse will immediately stop your transfusion and give you any necessary treatment if you do react.

What can help

Your nurse might give you some medication before each transfusion. This is to reduce the chances of a reaction if you've had a reaction to a blood or blood product transfusion in the past. This medication usually includes a steroid and an antihistamine.

You might worry that the blood transfusion itself will give you an infection. This is extremely rare, as all blood is very carefully screened. Remember transfusions are generally safe and do not normally cause any problems.

A blockage in your bladder or bowel

When a blockage (obstruction) occurs in your bowel (intestine) or bladder, waste matter is not able to move through as it normally does. This means bacteria can start to grow and cause an infection.

Other conditions

Other medical conditions that can cause fever in people with cancer include:

  • blood clots
  • some disorders of the connective tissue
  • hepatitis (inflammation of your liver)
  • Crohn's disease (a condition causing inflammation of your gut)
Last reviewed: 
02 Aug 2019
  • Transfusions. Blood Transfusion
    National Institue for Health and Care Excellence, 2015.

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th Edition)
    V T Devita, T S Lawrence and S A Rosenberg
    Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2019.

  • Guidelines on the use of irradiated blood components prepared by the British Committee for Standards in Haematology blood transfusion task force
    J Treleaven and others
    British Journal of Haematology, 2010. Volume 152, Issue 1

  • Guidelines for the Blood Transfusion Services in the United Kingdom (8th Edition)
    National Blood Service, March 2013.

  • Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine (10th Edition)
    I B Wilkinson and others
    Oxford University Press, 2017.

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in. 

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