How to Boost Your Immune System During Chemo: Everything You Need to Know

How to Boost Your Immune System During Chemo: Everything You Need to Know

The body has millions of cells that divide continuously each day. Each cell division helps repair new damage and create structures to strengthen the body. 

With constant division, it will often cause an accidental error, but the body has a strong proofreading mechanism that can quickly fix it. 

Unfortunately, if an error or mutation occurs, and our body fails to proofread it, then the cell can continue to divide and spread the mistake. This can eventually lead to a tumor and the  of cancer cells

With the advancement of modern-day science, we have a variety of medications, radiation, and chemotherapy to combat cancer. 

Chemo is a widely used drug treatment that destroys and suppresses the growth and metastasis of cancer.

However, chemo can also kill other cells in our body which can result in unfavorable side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headaches, fatigue, and weakness. 

During the process of chemo, it’s essential to have a robust immune system to prevent secondary infection and to reduce the symptoms from chemo. 

Luckily, we have some insights on what you can do to strengthen the immune system during times of duress.

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How does chemo work?

Cancer cells can divide uncontrollably and spread to different parts of the body. It can travel through the bloodstream, lymph nodes, and a variety of organs. 

Fortunately, with chemotherapy, it functions to destroy cancer cells to prevent it from spreading and growing.

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It’s a potent medication that destroys not only the tumor but also other cells in the body. For example, if you have mutations in the G.I. system that resulted in cancer cells, the chemo will destroy cancer and healthy GI cells resulting in side effects of vomiting, nausea, and loss of appetite. 

doctor examines slide

It can even damage the cells in the skin, which is why a lot of chemo patients would lose their hair or have sensitive skin during treatment.

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Why is it important to have a strong immune system during chemo?

Since chemo destroys the bone marrow, it can decrease white blood cells and red blood cells. Both of these cells play a significant role in our immune system.

When these cells are compromised, we are susceptible to secondary bacterial or viral infection. If cancer patients obtain these infections, it can potentially kill them. As a matter of fact, secondary infection is a common cause of death. 

With this in mind, it’s essential to have a robust immune system to prevent or fight secondary infection and to reduce the symptoms of unfavorable side effects from the chemotherapy.

What to be cautious about?

Before diving deeply into strategies to strengthen the immune system, it’s essential to know the factors that you should be cautious about during your chemo treatment.

Sick people

a white mug and tissues

It's important for cancer patients to stay away from sick people. A simple flu and infection can be very contagious. 

Even if you are nearby, but breathing the same air without touching can still cause you to get sick. This is mainly because a lot of viruses and bacteria can travel through the respiratory droplets and infect the person nearby.

Animal waste

Cancer patients should not clean any dog or cat poop. Dogs and cats can have parasites that lay their eggs and shed through the feces. The feces can get into the human G.I. system through the mouth. 

Parasitic infection can be extremely dangerous to anyone going through chemo due to a suppressed immune system.

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Strategies for a healthy immune system

group fitness class stretching

Now that you know what to be cautious about, here are some strategies on what ways to strengthen the immune system.

Get enough sleep

On average, people should get around 7 to 10 hours of sleep every night. A lack of sleep can strain the immune system, which can increase the susceptibility to infection, cold, and flu. 

It would be difficult to recover from chemo with a lack of sleep. 

It’s advisable to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, go to bed with a full stomach, have a relaxing bedtime ritual, and to keep the bedroom dark and quiet.

Eat smart

Healthy food such as fruits, vegetables, and lean meat can play a huge role in strengthening the immune system. A nutritious meal can improve the immune system by providing adequate minerals, vitamins, and nutrition to the body. 

Eating smart means knowing what to avoid, and it’s essential to avoid fatty and sugary type foods and opt for a healthier alternative.

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Exercise

Exercise is a great way to improve blood circulation, strength in the immune system, and to elevate the mood. It’s important to talk to the doctor to know what kind of activity is safe or not. 

Keep in mind that exercise helps elevate endorphins, which can lower blood pressure, promote blood flow, and decrease stress.

Reduce stress

group yoga class on the beach

One of the most common problems that cancer patient often suffers from major depressive disorder. 

This is mainly because of the uncontrollable and inevitable event that has occurred, and the various treatment can alter the brain’s chemical signals that can make them susceptible to mental health issues. 

Fortunately, daily yoga and meditation can help change the patient's outlook on life. It can keep the chemical signals balance, reduce stress hormones, and promote peace and tranquility. All of this is required for a successful recovery and strengthened the immune system.

Vaccinations

shoulder getting vaccinated

Vaccination plays a huge role in preventing secondary infection. It’s vital for cancer patients to get an annual flu shot as well as the pneumococcal vaccine.

Ask the provider for a vaccination with the deadly virus. Live viral vaccines can be dangerous for immunocompromised patients. 

With a weak immune system, live viral vaccines can turn virulent and cause more harm than good. The immune system might not be enough to suppress it. 

There are additional vaccines that require consultation with the primary care doctor. For example, if the patient is not vaccinated against hepatitis B, then they might opt for the vaccine just in case.

Protective drugs

The patient can consult with their provider to see if there are any protective drugs to boost the immune system. For example, if the patient is at risk for infection, the doctor may prescribe him or her colony-stimulating factor or CSF. CSF is administered through a skin patch or injection. 

The treatment helps increase Red blood cells and white blood cells to fight off infection. Unfortunately, it’s not recommended to take this for the long-term because it can cause some severe side effects. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that if the immune system is weak, the doctor may have to provide prophylactic antibiotics to prevent potential viral, fungal, or bacterial infection.

Wash your hands

hand holding a bubble

The hands play a vital role to pick things up and put them down. This can make them vulnerable to various contamination. 

Cancer patients have a weakened immune system; so slight contamination can easily become a full-blown infection that their body might not be able to fight off. 

It’s essential to wash your hands with soap and water, dry it, and use hand sanitizer to eliminate all germs and contamination.

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How do you know if you got an infection?

woman coughing

Patients should be aware of the signs of potential infection.

If you experience symptoms of chills, fever, diarrhea, vomiting, sore throat, cough, changes in mental status, nasal congestion, and redness or swelling of any part of the body, then it’s essential to see a doctor for a physical exam.

It’s vital to diagnose secondary infections immediately so the healthcare provider can prescribe the proper treatment. 

Fighting off disease at its early stage improves the prognosis and survival of the cancer patient. If the infection is left unmanaged, it can slowly grow and spread, and eventually lead to a fatal outcome.

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Conclusion

Chemotherapy functions to destroy cancer cells and to prevent them from metastasizing to other organs. Even if the cancer has already spread to other areas in the body, chemo can still damage it. 

However, the process of killing off the cancer cells will also eliminate healthy cells in the body. This can result in side effects of nausea, vomiting, loss of hair, fatigue, and weakened immune system. 

Also, it’s vital to keep the immune system healthy to prevent secondary infections. Keep in mind that secondary infections are a common cause of death among cancer patients. 

This is mainly because the body defense mechanism is too weak to fight off the infection. 

Fortunately, through various strategies, there are ways to improve the immune system so it can fight off potential infections and withstand side effects from chemo drugs.

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