Sepsis (Blood Stream Infection)

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: January 17, 2023

You may have an infection in one part of your body (localized infection), like in a central line or a wound. If the infection spreads throughout your body, the infection becomes systemic. Systemic means your whole body is responding to the infection. This systemic infection is called sepsis. The types of sepsis are severe sepsis, septic shock, and neutropenic sepsis.

If you have cancer, you may have a weakened immune system. This can be caused by the cancer itself or its treatment. A weakened immune system puts you at higher risk of getting an infection and sepsis.

Sepsis is a medical emergency. Organs far away from the first site of infection can be affected. Sepsis needs to be treated as soon as possible.

What are the symptoms of sepsis?

The symptoms of sepsis depend on which organs are being affected by the infection. Symptoms of sepsis may be:

  • Fever, shaking, chills.
  • Not peeing as much as normal.
  • A fast heartbeat.
  • Fast breathing.
  • Nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • You may have hypothermia (low body temperature), as well as not being able to think clearly.

If you have any symptoms of infection and cannot reach your care team, go to the local emergency department right away. Let them know that you are getting treatment for cancer. Cancer treatments are often put on hold until the infection has cleared.

How can you prevent sepsis?

Preventing sepsis is VERY important for people with cancer. There are precautions you can take to lower your risk:

  • Wash your hands often. Tell family members and friends to wash their hands often as well.
  • Stay out of crowds and ask people not to visit you if they are not feeling well.
  • Use a soft toothbrush and floss carefully. The goal is to avoid cuts or sores in your mouth where bacteria can enter the system.
  • If having sexual intercourse, use a water-based lubricant to decrease friction.
  • The food you eat, if not prepared correctly, could make you sick. Practice food safety.
  • If you have any sign of infection, contact your team right away.
  • If you are prescribed medication to manage an infection, take it as directed.

When should I call my care team?

  • You have a fever higher than 100.4°F or 38°C.
  • You have any of the listed symptoms.
  • If you have had a surgical procedure and there is pain, redness, or swelling/inflammation around the surgical site.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022). What is sepsis? Taken from's%20extreme,%2C%20skin%2C%20or%20gastrointestinal%20tract.

Sepsis Alliance. (2022). What is sepsis. Taken from

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