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Certain cancer treatments may damage or stop the function of the spleen, an important part of the body’s immune system.
The spleen is located in the upper left part of the abdomen, just under the rib cage. It is about the size of a fist. The spleen produces white blood cells that make antibodies, specialized proteins that fight infections. The spleen also works as a filter to remove bacteria, viruses, and other foreign substances from the blood.
Serious and life-threatening infection is a risk if not treated immediately.
Signs of an infection include:
When a fever is higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit:
Blood count and blood culture tests can check for signs of serious infection. Treatment with a strong antibiotic by vein or muscle is recommended until the possibility of serious infection is excluded.
Vaccines may reduce the chances of a serious infection. Recommended immunizations include:
Check with your primary care provider to ensure you get the appropriate vaccines. A yearly influenza (flu) vaccine is also recommended.
It is important to remember that even with immunizations, people are still at risk for serious infections because vaccines are not 100 percent effective.
Some providers may prescribe a daily antibiotic such as penicillin to reduce the chance of bacterial infection. Others may give a prescription for antibiotics to have on hand to take at the first sign of illness or when traveling to an area without adequate medical care.
Survivors are also at increased risk for problems with other infections:
Wear a medical alert bracelet or necklace to alert health care providers that you do not have healthy spleen function in case you are unable to communicate in a medical emergency. Carry a wallet card with guidelines for health care professionals.
Reviewed: June 2018