New Tool to Prevent Infections During Chemotherapy

Lisa Richardson, MD, MPH


August 20, 2012

Editorial Collaboration

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Hello. My name is Lisa Richardson, and I am an oncologist and medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I am pleased to speak with you today as part of the CDC Expert Commentary Series on Medscape about an educational Website -- Preventing Infections During Cancer Treatment -- aimed at reducing infections in cancer patients.

As clinicians, we know that neutropenia (low white blood cell count) is the most serious hematologic toxicity faced by cancer patients while receiving chemotherapy. Despite advances in oncology care, infections from both community and healthcare settings remain a major cause of hospitalization and death among this vulnerable population. Each year, 60,000 cancer patients are hospitalized for chemotherapy-induced neutropenia and infections, and 1 patient dies every 2 hours from this complication.

The impact of infections on cancer patients serves as a reminder of how important it is to counsel our patients about the things they can do to protect themselves. Prevent Cancer is an excellent tool that you can add to your existing patient education materials. It encourages patients to take the right steps toward preventing infections during chemotherapy by providing them with information, action steps, and tools.

The Website's main feature is a risk-assessment questionnaire to determine the patient's risk of developing neutropenia. After answering a few questions about the type of cancer, stage, and patient's age, the risk of developing neutropenia is determined to be either high or low. The online tool then provides tailored information that will help your patients recognize and respond to the signs and symptoms of possible infections as well as how to be proactive to lower their risk of developing infections.

Although this program is targeted to patients and caregivers, it was also developed with clinicians in mind. Once users enter this Website, they can proceed as patients, caregivers, or providers by entering the appropriate portal. The Website's language is then tailored to the chosen audience. For example, the provider's risk-assessment questionnaire asks about the patient's Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status, whereas the patient and caregiver's risk assessment asks about the patient's activities during the day.

If you provide care for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy, I encourage you to visit this Website. There are several ways to use this tool with your patients:

  • Complete the online questionnaire with your patient and provide them with a printed copy of the questionnaire and their results, as well as tailored messages. You also can email them this information.

  • Print out a PDF of the risk-assessment questionnaire, complete it on your patient's behalf, give it to your patient, and encourage the patient to visit

  • Visit the CDC Website, Preventing Infection in Cancer Patients, for additional resources to share with your patients. These resources include posters and fact sheets.

We at CDC hope that this tool will help us all become better stewards for our patients by doing all we can to prevent infections during chemotherapy.

Web Resources

Preventing Infections During Cancer Treatment

Preventing Infections During Cancer Treatment: Materials and Resources

CDC Preventing Infections in Cancer Patients Program

CDC Healthcare-Associated Infections. Basic Infection Control and Prevention Plan for Outpatient Oncology Settings

CDC Healthcare-Associated Infections. Guide for Infection Prevention in Outpatient Settings. Minimum Expectations for Safe Care

Guide for Infection Prevention in Outpatient Settings. Minimum Expectations for Safe Care

Lisa Richardson, MD, MPH , is a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. She is board-certified in internal medicine and medical oncology. Dr. Richardson graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1989 and completed internship, residency, and fellowship training at the University of Florida. In addition, she received her master's degree in epidemiology from the University of Michigan in 1997. Dr. Richardson is the Associate Director for Science (ADS) in the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. Prior to becoming the ADS, Dr. Richardson was the Team Lead of the Scientific Support and Clinical Translation Team in the Comprehensive Cancer Control Branch. Her research focuses on access to cancer care, systems of care, health-related quality of life during treatment, health disparities and discrimination, and breast cancer treatment patterns.


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