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I’m a Cancer Patient. Should I Get a Flu Shot?

December 05, 2019

Receiving an annual flu shot is a common quandary for those who have (or have had) cancer. Some patients are under the misconception that the flu vaccine could pose a danger to their weakened immune systems. Although cancer treatment can reduce someone’s ability to fight back against illness, it’s important to get vaccinated against influenza each year.

How important is it that those undergoing cancer treatment receive the flu vaccine?

Most people with cancer and undergoing treatment should receive the flu vaccine. They’re at an increased risk for developing serious problems if they get the flu — and that includes hospitalization or death. Getting a flu shot annually is essential because the vaccine is updated annually. The flu virus can change from season to season. A new vaccine protects against the strains of flu that are most likely to cause infection that year.

Patients undergoing cancer treatment have a weaker immune system and are at a higher risk of having complications from the flu. Receiving the flu vaccine dramatically decreases your chances of becoming sick from the influenza virus.

Are the concerns about being vaccinated for the flu while undergoing cancer treatment valid?

Some worry that the flu vaccine will make them feel sick or even give them the flu. The flu shot is an inactivated form of the virus that doesn’t have that ability — and that goes for our cancer patients. It can cause minor symptoms, like a low-grade fever or muscle aches. This is the body’s normal reaction to developing antibodies to protect you from the flu and not symptoms from contracting the flu.

Are cancer patients and survivors more likely to get the flu?

It’s unknown if patients with cancer and cancer survivors are at an increased risk of getting the flu. They are at an increased risk of complications from the flu, though. That’s why getting the vaccine is so vital.

Is there a recommended way to receive the flu vaccine while undergoing cancer treatment?

It’s extremely important to receive the flu shot and not the nasal spray. The flu shot is an inactivated (or killed) version of the virus and does not have any ability to cause the flu. On the other hand, the nasal spray is a weakened flu virus. In rare cases, it can cause illness in cancer patients.

It takes two weeks for your body to produce antibodies against the flu virus, so patients should receive the flu shot as early as possible.

Are there other ways a person can protect themselves from the flu?

One of the most important ways to protect yourself from the flu is by frequently washing your hands. Use soap and warm water, alcohol-based hand sanitizer or wipes.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Last but not least, avoid close contact with those who are sick or currently have the flu.

Choose to Reduce Your Risk

Find out what you need to know to protect yourself and your family from the flu this season.

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