ZocdocAnswersCan cancer patients die of a cold?

Question

Can cancer patients die of a cold?

It doesn't seem fair that someone fighting cancer can die of a cold. Is this even possible?

Answer

Unfortunately, the answer to your question is YES. A cancer patient can die of a cold. I would recommend that you discuss this with your oncologist (cancer specialist) if this is a concern for you. There are a number of reasons that the answer to your question is yes. Firstly, anyone can die from a cold. Even young healthy people can be affected. A cold is fundamentally a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. The reason that many people were afraid of "swine flu" last year was that it represents a new type of virus that people can (and actually did) die from. Cancer patients are even more likely to have bad outcomes from a virus. The first reason is that cancer itself can result in a depressed immune system -- the body's natural defense. Some cancers -- such as a leukemia or a lymphoma -- have even more depressed immune system than normal. The second, and probably more important reason that cancer patients have a depressed immune system from the medicines they receive. Cancer patients receive chemotherapy or radiation that often depresses your immune system. With this degree of immune dysfunction -- even a small infection like a cold can do it. Unfortunately, cancer patients can die of a small infection.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment. Medical professionals who provide responses to health-related questions are intended third party beneficiaries with certain rights under Zocdoc’s Terms of Service.