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Swimming & Chemotherapy

author image Jan Millehan
Jan Millehan has published articles relating to health, fitness and disease on various websites. Her publishing history includes health-related articles on blogs and online directories, as well as an essay published in the Bridgewater College journal, "Philomathean." Millehan received a Bachelor of Science in elementary education from Bridgewater College.
Swimming & Chemotherapy
Public pools can cause infection in chemotherapy patients. Photo Credit Mike Watson Images/moodboard/Getty Images

Swimming in places, such as pools, hot tubs, lakes and rivers may increase infection in chemotherapy patients. In fact, the Cure Our Children Foundation recommends completely avoiding public pools. Chemotherapy treatment decreases your immune system’s ability to fight disease, which leaves you more susceptible to infection from germs in the water. Fortunately, a disinfected private swimming area may provide a safe swimming option. However, consult your doctor before swimming.


Chemotherapy, a cancer treatment, consists of various drugs given primarily through your veins, or by intravenous infusion. Chemotherapy drugs work in somewhat different ways, but generally kill cancer cells, shrink tumors and may also prohibit the spreading, or metastasis, of cancer cells throughout your body, according to "Harvard Health Publications." Unfortunately, chemotherapy drugs not only kill cancer cells, but destroy many healthy cells, as well.


An infection happens when germs enter your body and multiply. Infections commonly occur in cancer patients, because of diseases, such as leukemia and lymphoma, along with the immune-suppressing side effects from chemotherapy, according to the Chemocare website. Several of your body organs help combat infections; for instance, your skin and mucus membranes inhibit germs from entering your body. Your lymph nodes filter out harmful substances, such as bacteria, for elimination by your infection-fighting white blood cells. When your white blood cell count drops too low, you are more likely to get an infection.

Recreational Water Illnesses

Swimming in lakes, rivers, oceans, pools and hot tubs can promote recreational water illnesses, or RWIs, in chemotherapy patients as well as in the general population. RWIs can occur from swallowing, inhaling or touching germ-infested, contaminated water. A number of infections, including gastrointestinal, skin and respiratory, come from RWIs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diarrhea, reportedly the most common RWI, can result from germs, such as cryptosporidium and E. coli. You share water with many people who, on average, have about .14 g of contaminating fecal matter on their bottoms, reports the CDC. In addition, the high water temperatures in hot tubs make disinfecting difficult, while creating a thriving environment for bacterial growth.

Safe Swimming

Highly disinfected private pools and hot tubs can provide you with a safer water experience while taking chemotherapy. Check disinfectant levels of pools -- and especially hot tubs -- on a regular, frequent basis to ensure the control of infection-causing germs. Wear shoes around your pool or hot tub and apply body lotion to protect your feet from injury and your skin from cracking -- allowing germs to easily enter your system. The Cure Our Children Foundation also recommends that you cover a central line, or inserted catheter, with a suitable water barrier, such as Tegaderm and tape, before swimming. Change and clean your dressing immediately following swimming.

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