Safely Handling Fluids and Waste After Chemotherapy

How should you handle body waste at home after chemotherapy? If you have ever received chemotherapy in a hospital or cancer center setting, it is a familiar sight to you. The nurse or doctor comes in, wearing a gown, gloves and maybe even eye protection to shield themselves from exposure to the substances that they are about to inject into your body. It can be very unnerving and frightening!

A woman washing her hands
Mike Kemp / Getty Images

As you already know, cancer-killing medications can cause damage to healthy cells and tissues as well as leukemia or lymphoma cells. If you have cancer, the benefit of these medications outweighs this potential risk. But, if you do not require cancer treatment, exposure to these substances can be hazardous to your health. This is why medical personnel wear protective gear.

Contamination Caution After Chemotherapy

For the first few days following chemotherapy treatment for blood or marrow cancer, you might excrete some of the medications through your body waste: urine, stool, and vomit. If you are at home during this time frame, you should take measures to protect yourself as well as your caregivers and loved ones from unnecessary contact with these harmful chemicals.

Safety Precautions

Organizations including the American Cancer Society provide guidelines to safely manage body waste after chemotherapy treatment.

Body Fluids

  • Put a mattress pad or plastic sheet under your bed linens to protect your bed from bladder or bowel control accidents.
  • Use pads or disposable undergarments to manage bladder or bowel control problems, seal used items in a plastic bag before throwing them in the garbage.
  • Keep a container nearby to use in the event that you experience vomiting after treatment.


  • Double flush the toilet after bowel movements or urination.
  • Do your best to avoid spilling urine, bowel movements, or vomit on the toilet.


  • Wash towels, clothing and bed linens that are soiled with waste in your washing machine, separate from other items.
  • Try to wash soiled clothing right away. If you can't get to it right away, place it in a sealed bag to wash later on.

Spills and Cleaning

  • Wear rubber or latex gloves when cleaning up waste spills or soiled items. If the gloves are reusable, wash them with soap and water before removing them. If the gloves are disposable, throw them out after a single-use.
  • Always wash your hands after cleaning up, even if you were wearing gloves.
  • Clean up waste messes and spills as soon as possible to avoid them being tracked to other areas of the home.
  • Clean any waste that gets onto your skin with soap and lots of water.
  • If possible, use toilet paper to clean up small messes, then flush it down the toilet. For larger messes, try using paper towels. Place used towels in a sealed bag before placing them in the trash.
  • Clean surface messes with soap and water, and rinse well.
  • Use soapy water to clean any containers that have been used for collecting waste.

Special Precautions

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should take special precautions to avoid exposure to chemotherapy waste products. One literature review suggests that women should avoid exposure during the first 84 days of their pregnancy. But other guidelines (developed for nurses who work with cancer patients) are more conservative.

The position statement of the Oncology Nursing Society states that even though safe handling practices minimize risk, the risk still exists. They advise nurses to request alternate duty to avoid exposure to chemicals.

If you are concerned about exposure at home during pregnancy or breastfeeding, speak to your healthcare provider about practices to minimize exposure and risk.

Summing It up

As a result of their toxic properties, accidental exposure to chemotherapy drugs can be hazardous to the health of yourself and your loved ones. Since many of these medications can be released in your body waste for 48 hours after cancer treatment, it is important that you use caution and safe handling techniques when cleaning up spills and messes at home.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. Getting IV or injectable chemotherapy.

  2. Gilani S, Giridharan S. Is it safe for pregnant health-care professionals to handle cytotoxic drugs? A review of the literature and recommendationsEcancermedicalscience. 2014;8:418. doi:10.3332/ecancer.2014.418

  3. Wyant T. What is ONS’s stance on handling chemotherapy while pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive? Oncology Nursing Society.

Additional Reading
  • American Cancer Society. Chemo safety.

  • Polovich, M. (2011) Safe handling of hazardous drugs 2nd ed. Oncology Nursing Society. Atlanta, GA.

By Karen Raymaakers
Karen Raymaakers RN, CON(C) is a certified oncology nurse that has worked with leukemia and lymphoma patients for over a decade.