Exposure to Children While Having Cancer Treatment

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: August 8, 2019

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, OncoLink's Nurse Educator, responds:

This is a very common concern. Patients who are receiving cancer medications pose no risk to children, pregnant women, or anyone else. Cancer treatment medications typically leave the body in urine, stool, and vomit for 48-72 hours after each treatment. It is best to prevent exposure to these body fluids for that period of time for everyone in the household. The patient could use a different bathroom on those days in order to be extra cautious. If there is one bathroom, experts recommend flushing the toilet twice after each use. I'd add that wiping down the seat is also a good idea.

If your mother is taking a cancer medication by mouth (a pill, tablet, capsule, etc), be sure that these medicines are stored in an area out of reach of children and pets.

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 tumor. 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 at home. This type of treatment is most often used for prostate and thyroid cancers. This treatment is also used for some gynecologic cancers, but that treatment is typically done in the hospital.

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, your mom's immune system may be suppressed and because of this, your mom is at higher risk to catch colds and other infections. Handwashing is the best way to prevent her from picking up any bugs from the kids (or from you or any other visitors). The kids can help take care of Grandmom by washing their hands every time they visit. In fact, all household members and visitors should wash their hands when they arrive.

Learn more about safety during cancer treatment and ask your care team if you have further questions.

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