Drinking water safely during cancer treatment
Why you need to be careful
During and right after your cancer treatment, your body cannot protect itself against infections. Tiny germs can be in water, even when it looks clean. You need to be careful where you get your water from. This includes water for drinking, cooking, and brushing your teeth. Ask your doctor or nurse about special care you should take.
Tap water is water from your faucet. It should be safe when it comes from:
- A city water supply
- A city well that supplies many people with water
If you live in a small city or town, check with your local water department. Ask if they test the water every day for the kind of germs that can give you an infection -- germs are called coliforms.
Boil water from a private well or a small community well before you drink it or use it for cooking or brushing your teeth.
Running well water through a filter or adding chlorine to it does not make it safe to use. Test your well water at least once a year for coliform germs that may cause an infection. Test your water more often if coliforms are found in it or if there is any question about the safety of your water.
To boil water and store it:
- Heat the water to a rolling boil.
- Keep the water boiling for at least 1 minute.
- After boiling the water, store it in the refrigerator in a clean and covered container.
- Use all this water within 3 days (72 hours). If you do not use it in this time, pour it down the drain or use it to water your plants or your garden.
The label on any bottled water you drink should say how it was cleaned. Look for these words:
- Reverse osmosis filtration
- Distillation or distilled
Tap water should be safe when it comes from a city water supply or a city well that supplies many people with water. It does not need to be filtered.
You should boil water that comes from a private well or a small local well, even if you have a filter.
Many sink filters, filters in refrigerators, pitchers that use filters, and some filters for camping do not remove germs.
If you have a home water-filtering system (such as a filter under your sink), change the filter as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A guide to drinking water treatment technologies for household use. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/drinking/travel/household_water_treatment.html. Accessed May 7, 2014.
Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.