Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"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?
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.
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