What to Know About Chemotherapy and Risks to Others

What to Know About Chemotherapy and Risks to Others

Reviewed by Jasper Clinical Board

Last updated 5/24/21

If you’re receiving chemotherapy, you may have heard that there’s a risk for your loved ones. Aren’t chemotherapy drugs toxic? Could your treatment be dangerous to people around you?
While there’s a grain of truth to this idea, you really don’t need to worry. It’s easy enough to safeguard your loved ones if you stay informed and work closely with your doctor to understand the risks. We’ll share some safety tips below—but first, a little background.

How is chemotherapy hazardous to others?

Chemotherapy medications are powerful drugs—sometimes swallowed, sometimes injected—that kill cancer cells in your body. But the very same properties that make these drugs deadly for cancerous cells also make them toxic to normal, healthy tissues. That’s why you don’t want to accidentally expose anyone to chemotherapy drugs. Any time you’re handling or preparing chemo medication, you should do so in a safe environment away from open windows, ducts, fans, and other people.
But there’s another risk as well. After receiving chemotherapy, the medication will be circulating in your body. That means your body fluids and waste products—like urine, stool, saliva, vomit, and blood—will be unsafe for other people to contact. 
Fortunately, this window only lasts about 48-72 hours, after which the medication will have fully passed through your system. But until then, here are 10 tips to stay safe:
  1. Use a separate bathroom from others if you have more than one bathroom in the house. This lowers the chances that someone will inadvertently come into contact with your body fluids.
  2. Close the lid before flushing the toilet, and flush twice after each use.
  3. Sit down to empty your bladder—even if you normally stand! This will help keep urine from splashing outside the toilet.
  4. Wash your hands after using the bathroom. (Always a great idea, but especially now.)
  5. Seal soiled disposable items (adult diapers, menstrual pads, etc.) in two plastic bags and throw them away in your regular trash.
  6. If you vomit into the toilet, carefully clean up any splashes and flush twice. If you vomit into a bucket or other container, empty it into the toilet, flush twice, and wash the container with warm, soapy water.
  7. Wear two layers of disposable gloves when you’re cleaning up urine, stool, vomit, or other waste. This goes for any caregivers who are helping you, too.
  8. Wash soiled sheets, towels, and clothing as soon as possible in a laundry machine with warm water and normal detergent.
  9. Wash and rinse the affected area if a caregiver has accidental contact with one of your body fluids, then let your doctor know.
  10. Use sexual barriers like condoms and dental dams, as sexual fluids can contain chemotherapy medication. Avoid open-mouth kisses (i.e. with saliva exchange) as well.
  11. Bonus Tip: Keep hugging, touching, cuddling your loved ones! It’s perfectly safe, and it’s good for your heart.

The content on this website is intended to provide the best possible information for you, but should not be considered—or used as a substitute for—medical advice. If you have questions about your diagnosis or treatment, please contact your health care provider(s). For questions or comments about this content, please email us at