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Symptom Management: Fever, Chills

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Symptom Management: Fever, Chills & Sweats

Knowing what to expect before you begin treatment makes you aware of possible side effects. Taking steps to prevent symptoms or side effects before they arise, and manage them if they appear, will empower you to press through these phases of treatment and continue to take care of yourself.

Fever, Chills, & Sweats

Body temperatures follow a rhythm, being lower in the morning and higher in the afternoon. An abnormal increase in body temperature is called fever. With cancer patients, a fever may be a sign of a serious infection and should be reported to your physician immediately. It is uncomfortable for those with cancer and may be followed by chills and sweats as the body tries to control its temperature. Long-term fevers can lead to extreme fatigue in cancer patients.

Infection should be considered as a cause of fever until other causes are determined, says the NCI. Major causes of fevers in cancer patients are infection, tumor, allergic reactions to a drug or blood transfusion, or treatment with biologic response modifiers. NCI also cites the presence of blood clots, hepatitis, or rejection of a transplant (like bone marrow transplant) as being causes of fever.

The NCI reports that a condition called neutropenia is frequently associated with fever in cancer patients. Neutropenia is a condition in which there are not enough infection-fighting cells in the bloodstream. If you have neutropenia and develop a fever, this is an emergency and should be reported to your physician immediately.

Treatment for Fever

Once the cause of your fever is identified and treatment has begun, symptoms caused by the fever must be treated, according to the NCI. Increased liquid and caloric intakes are very important.

General Treatment for Fevers

Fever can be treated by bathing or sponging with lukewarm water and/or medications. NCI also suggests:
  • Keeping comfortable
  • Removing excess clothing and bedding
  • Avoiding ice water, ice packs, alcohol sponges, and cold mattresses
For Chills
  • Replace wet blankets with warm, dry blankets
  • Keep patient out of drafts
  • Adjust room temperature
The NCI List of Other Common Fevers During Cancer Treatment

Seek treatment if you have any of these symptoms or known fevers:
  • Infection-associated fever may be treated with antibiotics.
  • Tumor-associated fever - the NCI reports that physicians do not know how tumors cause fevers. These fevers may go away once the tumor is treated or the fever may be treated through medications.
  • Drug-associated fevers occur as a reaction to certain drugs. These fevers can be treated by stopping the drug that is causing the fever or you may receive an antihistamine or acetaminophen before being given the drug that causes fever.
  • Neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) is a rare but sometimes fatal reaction to drugs that patients are given for psychotic conditions, delirium, or nausea and vomiting. NMS symptoms are fever, stiff body, confusion, and loss of body function control. This condition is treated by stopping the drug, treating symptoms, and sometimes using other drugs.
  • Blood product-associated fever occurs as a reaction to blood products following blood transfusions. Removing white blood cells from blood before it is transferred to the patient can reduce this reaction. Taking acetaminophen and antihistamine before, as well as treating blood products with radiation before transfusion, can reduce the likelihood of fever.