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Treating the cause of your fever

Treatment for a fever will depend on what is causing it. 

Treating the cancer itself

Fevers caused by the tumour often stop when you have successful cancer treatment. Your doctor will try to relieve your fever symptoms if it's the cancer causing it. The fever does tend to return if the cancer comes back.

Treating infections

The type of infection will determine the treatment you have.

Bacterial infection

Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. You have blood tests and possibly some swabs as soon as it seems you might 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.

Once your test results come back, which can take a few days, your doctor will hopefully know exactly what is causing your infection. Your doctor will change the antibiotics if they are not right for the infection you have.

You might continue with broad spectrum antibiotics as well. This is to try and prevent other infections developing.

You are most likely to have antibiotics into a vein in your arm (intravenously) if you have an infection while you have a low white cell count. You have them for about 5 to 7 days. There are many types of broad spectrum antibiotics including:

  • broad spectrum penicillins including piperacillin (it is important to tell your doctor of any known penicillin allergy)
  • ceftazidime
  • imipenim
  • vancomycin
  • ciprofloxacin

Viral infection

Viral infections are treated with 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 infection

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

  • amphotericin
  • miconazole
  • fluconazole
  • itraconazole
  • posaconazole

Treatment at home

People with a low risk of becoming very unwell from an infection might be able to go home and take tablets to treat the infection. This decision must be made by a health care professional, who has experience of looking after people with infections after cancer treatment.

They will tell you what to look out for and what to 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

You might have antibiotics to try to help prevent infections, if you have a low white blood cell count. These are called prophylactic (pronounced prof-ill-ak-tick) antibiotics.

Growth factors

You might have 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 having chemotherapy.

Not everyone on chemotherapy needs growth factor injections. It depends on your disease and the effects of the chemotherapy treatment you are having.

Blood transfusion

Your nurse stops your blood transfusion straight away if you have a reaction. You might need to have some drugs to stop the reaction.

Drug side effects

Fever caused by side effects of drugs is treated by stopping or changing your medication.

Last reviewed: 
28 Jun 2017
  • Cancer and its management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser 
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

  • Electronic Medicines Compendium

    Accessed 2015

  • Management of febrile neutropenia: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines

    J de Naurois and others, 2010

    Annals of Oncology, Volume 21, Supplement 5

  • Neutropenic sepsis: prevention and management of neutropenic sepsis in cancer patients

    National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), September 2012

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