immune system

How Does Cancer Affect Your Child’s Immune System?

One of the challenges of treating cancer is that in order to get rid of it, you have to give these kids medicines that make them vulnerable to other illnesses.

That’s because a lot of the treatments weaken the immune system, which makes it harder for their bodies to fight off germs.

Here’s a look at how cancer affects your child’s immune system.

The Many Moving Parts Of The Immune System

The immune system is very complex. The easiest way to describe what it does is that it helps keep your child’s body healthy by defending it against foreign substances, such as germs.

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Kids who have cancer and are undergoing treatment are considered immunosuppressed. That means their immune systems are weakened, which puts them at risk for further illnesses.

Why Cancer Can Weaken Your Child’s Immune System

Most of the time, it’s the treatment that causes immunosuppression in kids with cancer.

Chemo can decrease the amount of white blood cells produced in the bone marrow, explains the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

Radiation can damage bone marrow as well.

There are some malignancies that can also cause the immune system to be more suppressed.

If they have a blood cancer that affects their white cell count, that also can change how their body fights infections until we get the disease under control.

Cancers that directly impact the bone marrow—like leukemia or lymphoma—can basically take over the normal bone marrow, and that will lower the amount of white blood cells that are produced, according to ASCO.

How To Prevent Infections And Illnesses

These kids are at a higher risk of getting sick or developing an infection. So, it’s important for the people around them to do as much as they can to help keep their exposure to germs as minimal as possible.

Infections can occur almost anywhere in the body, but there are some common symptoms to watch out for, according to ASCO:

  • Fever over 100.4°F
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Sore throat
  • Mouth sores
  • Abdominal pain
  • Redness, swelling, or pain around an open wound

So, when you know that your child’s blood counts are lower, make sure you avoid large crowds of people. Avoiding sick people is a big help, too.

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Make sure that family members and friends understand that someone with a cough or a fever can be concerning. It’s important they know if they’re ill or not feeling well, then they shouldn’t come around.

I think educating others is one of the biggest things you can do to help your child stay as healthy as possible during treatment.

Anisa Hoie
I've been a nurse for nearly 32 years, mostly taking care of kids with cancer. My job is to give the kids and their families a personal touch while they go through treatment.

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