Exposure to Children While Having Cancer Treatment

Last Modified: January 11, 2009

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

My mother-in-law was recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer. There is a 2 yr old child in the household, and I was wondering if her chemotherapy and radiation treatments will have any effect on the child being in that environment?

Answer

Carolyn Vachani RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink's Nurse Educator, responds:

This is a very common concern. Patients who are receiving chemotherapy or biotherapy (another class of medications used to treat cancer) pose no risk to children, pregnant women, or anyone else. Cancer treatment medications are most often excreted from the body in urine and stool for 48-72 hours after each treatment. We don’t know what effect, if any, the limited exposure from splashing on a toilet seat would have, but the patient could use a different bathroom than the children on those days in order to be extra cautious.

As for radiation therapy, the patient is not “radioactive”, and poses absolutely no danger to anyone. The one exception to this are patients who receive brachytherapy, in which radiation “seeds” are implanted directly into the prostate. The seeds remain permanently in the body, while the radioactivity that they contain is slowly given off over time ). In these cases, the patient is given very specific instructions for radiation safety after the implant.

I believe grandkids can be a wonderful way for a patient to take his or her mind off the treatments and focus instead on one of the best kinds of medicine - hugs! But, keep in mind that during therapy, the patient’s immune system is suppressed and it is the patient who is at higher risk to catch colds and other infections. Handwashing is the best way to prevent the patient from picking up any bugs from the kids (or from you). The kids can help take care of Grandmom by washing their hands every time they visit.