A Part of the University of Maryland Medical Center

Connect with UMGCC
Facebook Twitter YouTube Blog iPhone
Email PageEmail page Print PagePrint page

Fever, Sweats, and Hot Flashes

Causes of Fever in Patients with Cancer

Fever is a rise in body temperature caused by the body's response to illness.

Normal human body temperature changes during each 24-hour period according to a definite pattern. It is lowest in the morning before dawn and highest in the afternoon. Temperature control actions in the body keep the amount of heat that is made equal to the amount lost. This keeps body temperature normal.

An abnormal rise in body temperature is caused by either a condition called hyperthermia or fever. Hyperthermia is caused by a breakdown in the body's temperature control actions. In fever, the temperature controls in the body are working as they should, but body temperature rises as the body responds to illness.

There are three phases of fever:

Certain problems are more likely in older people or the very young. In older people, the temperature control centers in the brain may not work the way they should and can lead to hyperthermia. This may cause irregular heartbeat, lack of blood flow to parts of the body, confusion, or heart failure. In children between 6 months and 6 years old, high fever may lead to seizures.

There are many possible causes of fever in patients with cancer.

The main causes of fever in patients with cancer are reactions to:

Other causes of fever in cancer patients include:

Patients with fever need to be checked carefully for signs of infection.

The doctor will ask questions about past medical problems, check all medicines the patient is taking, and do a physical exam to look for the cause of fever. Patients, especially those who have fever and neutropenia (a very low white blood cell count), will have a complete checkup for signs of infection. Some of the areas the doctor will check include:

Patients with neutropenia may not show the usual signs of infection. These patients need to be checked often and should see their doctor if they have a fever.