Chemotherapy is a difficult process to go through in the best of cases. Patients are often stressed and anxious, as are caregivers and family members. Side effects can be anywhere from uncomfortable to debilitating. In addition to the emotional and physical challenges of undergoing chemotherapy, there are safety considerations that need to be implemented for patients and household members after therapy. Because chemotherapy drugs are present in the body after therapy, it is important that caregivers and family members are not inadvertently exposed to the drugs.
According to the American Cancer Society, chemotherapy drugs remain in your system for approximately 48 hours after treatment. During this time, the chemotherapy drugs are being broken down by your kidney and liver, and are present in any bodily fluid excreted. These fluids include vomit, urine, stools, saliva, sweat, tear, mucus and sexual fluids. This is not fun stuff to talk about, but it is important to prevent any contact with these fluids by others in your family, household, workplace, or any other place where you have contact with others.
Precautions in First 48 Hours
During the first 48 hours after chemotherapy, precautions should be taken to prevent exposure of chemotherapy drugs to others in the days after therapy is administered. These precautions include:
- Flush the toilet twice after each use, with the lid down
- Cover the inside of the toilet lid when flushing
- Clean the toilet seat and flush handle after each use
- Abstain from sex
- Do not breastfeed
- Caregivers should wear two medical gloves on each hand when in contact with the patient’s body or when handling anything used by the patient where fluids might have been left behind (sinks, toilets, showers, laundry, tissues)
- Wash all laundry in hot water
- Do not wash patient laundry with other laundry
In addition to the precautions taken in the first 48 hours, there are ongoing precautions to be considered for the safety and health of the patient and family. The patient should frequently and vigorously wash his or her hands. Handwashing is one of the most important ways to prevent infections that could compromise the effectiveness of chemotherapy and/or cause health complications. Hands should be washed:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the bathroom
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom
- After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
- After handling pets, pet food or pet treats
- After touching trash
It is vital that women do not get pregnant during the chemotherapy process and for six months after the therapy is completed. In addition to avoiding sexual activity in the 48 hours after a chemotherapy session, many medical organizations and cancer treatment centers recommend using two methods of birth control until six months after completing chemotherapy.
While these subjects may be uncomfortable to discuss, it is important to educate household members, caregivers and anyone else in contact with the patient immediately after chemotherapy in order to avoid further health problems.