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Safety precautions

Page last updated: February 2024

The information on this webpage has been adapted from Understanding Chemotherapy - A guide for people with cancer, their families and friends (2022 edition). This webpage was last updated in February 2024.

Expert content reviewers:

This information was developed with help from a range of health professionals and people affected by cancer who have had chemotherapy. We thank the reviewers of this booklet:

  • Prof Timothy Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA
  • Graham Borgas, Consumer: Dr Joanna Dewar, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Professor, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA
  • Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC
  • Angela Kritikos, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Dietetic Department, Liverpool Hospital, NSW
  • Dr Kate Mahon, Director of Medical Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW
  • Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA
  • Marissa Ryan, Acting Consultant Pharmacist (Cancer Services), Pharmacy Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD

While providing many benefits, chemotherapy is strong medicine, so it is safest for people without cancer to avoid direct contact with the drugs. That's why oncology nurses and doctors wear gloves, goggles, gowns and masks.

When the treatment session is over, these items are disposed of in special bags or bins. After each chemotherapy session, the drugs may remain in your body for up to a week. This depends on the type of drugs used.

The drugs are then released into urine, faeces and vomit. They could also be passed to other body fluids such as saliva, sweat, semen or vaginal discharge, and breast milk.

Some people having chemotherapy worry about the safety of family and friends. There is little risk to visitors, including children, babies and pregnant women, because they aren't likely to come into contact with any chemotherapy drugs or body fluids.

The safety measures listed below are recommended for family or friends who are providing care or have other close contact during the recovery period at home.

If you have questions, talk to your treatment team or call Cancer Council on  13 11 20.

Learn more about the cost of cancer during treatment and recovery.

The affect of smoking

Smoking may affect how well the treatment works and make side effects worse so it's important to try to quit or cut down before starting chemotherapy treatment.

Quitting can be difficult, especially if you’re feeling anxious about the cancer diagnosis and treatment.

For support and advice, talk to your doctor, call the Quitline on 13 QUIT (13 7848) or download the My QuitBuddy app.

Learn more

Chemotherapy safety in the home

There are simple and effective ways to reduce exposure to chemotherapy drugs at home, both for you and your family and friends.

Safety precautions can vary depending on the drugs you receive, so ask your treatment team about your individual situation.

Use a plastic bucket

Vomit into a plastic bowl or bucket (or a plastic bag with no holes). Don't use the bowl or bucket for anything else, and throw it out after your final chemotherapy session.

Clean up spills

Keep a supply of cleaning cloths, paper towels and disposable waterproof gloves handy.

If any body fluids (during the week after a treatment session) or chemotherapy drugs spill onto household surfaces, put on a pair of waterproof gloves and soak up the spill with paper towels.

You should then clean around the area with a disposable cloth and soapy water, and rinse the area with water. Seal used gloves, cloths and paper towels in a plastic bag before putting them in the bin.

Take care going to the toilet

For a week after a treatment session, sit down to use the toilet. Put the lid down before flushing to avoid splashing.

Wear disposable gloves

During the week after a treatment session, wear disposable waterproof gloves when handling clothing or bedsheets soiled with vomit or other body fluids. Seal the gloves in a plastic bag and discard after use.

Keep tablets whole

Don't crush, chew or cut chemotherapy tablets. If you can't swallow a tablet whole, ask your oncologist or pharmacist whether the drugs come in other preparations (i.e. liquid).

Handle laundry carefully

Wash clothing or other items soiled with body fluids separately. Use the longest washing machine cycle (hot or cold water can be used). Line dry the items.

Use protection

Use a condom or a female condom if having any type of sex after a chemotherapy session. Your doctor or nurse can give you more details about how long you need to use protection.

Learn more about sexuality and intimacy.

“All my life I wanted to be a father. I didn’t want cancer to ruin my chances, so I stored my sperm before treatment started. I think of this as a bit of an insurance policy.” Zac

Put medicines in a safe place

Store all tablets, capsules or injections as directed by your oncologist or pharmacist – they often need special storage to keep them effective and safe. Keep them out of reach of children, and do not store them in a pill organiser with other medicines.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Avoid pregnancy while having chemotherapy. If you have a baby, you will not be able to breastfeed during your course of chemotherapy.


Understanding Chemotherapy

Download our Understanding Chemotherapy booklet to learn more

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