f you have ever had a fungal infection, you know that is can be both irritating and uncomfortable; sometimes uncomfortable enough that you don’t want to continue. Fungal infections are most often associated with poor personal hygiene or a weakened immune system: itchy skin, ringworm in the scalp, or even a more bothersome vaginal yeast infection or thrush on the lip. However, these superficial infections often only present a minor inconvenience: an itchy toenail or ringworm in the scalp, or occasionally a more annoying oral yeast infection, or vaginal candidiasis. These types of infections are not considered to be life-threatening, and can easily be treated with over-the-counter antifungals.
For more serious or more chronic invasive fungal infections, patients will require a different kind of antifungal treatment. These types of infections, called systemic or internal fungal infections, can cause serious health problems if they are not addressed promptly. Patients suffering from these kinds of infections may experience serious swelling and puffiness, fever, lethargy or severe anemia, cognitive impairment, digestive problems, and, in some cases, even liver cancer. Therefore, if your physician suggests that you take antifungals to fight off this type of infection, you will need to carefully consider the suggested course of action.
What to do when you have a invasive fungal infection
When considering invasive fungal infections, there are at least two considerations to keep in mind: the likelihood of developing cancer and the likelihood of suffering a secondary infection. Research has shown that people who have been diagnosed with fungal skin infections, throat infections, and nail infections are more likely to develop cancer of the esophagus, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and colon in later years. But, researchers have not determined whether the increased risk is due to the infections themselves or to some other factors, so the risk for cancer is not known.
The second consideration is whether the antifungal treatment you are being prescribed is really needed. There is strong evidence that many “complementary” therapies, such as acupuncture, acupressure, chiropractic, and herbal remedies, are more effective at treating patients’ primary conditions than they are at preventing the development of secondary conditions. Although the number of people diagnosed with cancer who use these alternative therapies is relatively small, patients’ reports suggest that many of these conditions are treated better with these therapies than with standard care. However, patients should be aware that cancer treatments are very serious and that there is a good chance that the treatment will lead to further disease if it is used incorrectly. If you are planning to use an alternative therapy to treat your fungal infections, you should take time to learn about its potential side effects and risks before beginning any treatment.
Factors to consider
One of the factors that may contribute to the increased mortality rate for invasive fungal infections is underdiagnosis. Most patients who have one or more of these infections do not seek treatment because their symptoms are similar to those experienced by healthy people. For example, most patients with chronic bronchitis have no symptoms of asthma. Unfortunately, this condition is very common among people with cancer and causes considerably higher mortality than it does among those without cancer. Similarly, many patients may have undiagnosed colitis or Crohn’s disease, which may also lead to death.
There are several different types of agents used in the treatment of invasive fungal infections, including agents that attack the root cause of infection. Some agents reduce the size of the fungal cells, while others prevent the growth of new cells. Unfortunately, many people who receive treatment for their invasive mycoses die shortly thereafter because the medications reduce their immune defenses and affect their ability to fight infection. Some patients are given no such protection, due to their poor health or under-treated status. Such patients generally develop secondary infections and suffer relapse after finishing the course of treatment.
Many researchers believe that some cancers may be associated with neutropenia, lowered immunity, which may trigger the development of invasive fungal infections. For example, cancers of the breast, lung, pancreas, stomach, esophagus, liver, kidney, bladder and skin have been associated with aspergillosis. In addition, a decreased platelet count, an increased risk of bleeding and an increased risk of blood clots may also make aspergillosis more likely. Aspergillosis is particularly dangerous in the elderly, infants and people with compromised immunity. Therefore, people with these conditions should have their infections treated promptly to avoid aspergillosis from affecting them.
How to treat
For patients with invasive fungal infections, antifungal treatments are usually effective and have reduced the risk of relapse. To date, only one specific antifungal drug, voriconazole, is approved for use in humans. For people with immune system disorders and people without a strong immune system, a combination of antifungals can be used.