Cancer can prevent your immune system working as it should.
Your immune system helps protect your body from infection and disease but it may not work as well as normal during and after cancer treatment.
Treatments such as chemotherapy aim to stop cancer cells from growing and dividing but they also affect normal cells, such as white blood cells, which are part of your immune system. If you have a low number of white blood cells, you’re at a higher risk of infection or food poisoning.
If you have blood cancer, you are more likely to be ‘neutropenic’ (which means your white blood cell levels are very low) so you may have to be even more careful to avoid infection or food poisoning and will need specific advice from your doctor or dietitian.
The good news is that immune cells recover when treatment stops. You can also take some simple steps to protect your immune system and prevent infection.
While you’re having cancer treatment, eating well and keeping active can help keep your immune system working at its best.
The best way to support your immune system is by making sure your body gets all the nutrients it needs from a balanced and varied diet, rather than focusing on specific foods.
As well as eating plenty of vegetables and fruit, try to eat enough calories (energy) and protein, especially if you’ve lost weight.
Practising good food hygiene is very important to protect you from food poisoning. Make sure you:
While you’re having cancer treatment, it’s also important to be careful with certain foods that are more likely to contain harmful bacteria.
It’s normally best to avoid paté, raw or undercooked seafood and fish, and cheeses made from unpasteurised milk, such as brie and blue-veined cheeses. Speak to your doctor or dietitian for more specific advice.