How are Cancer Patients at Risk for the Flu?

Image result for patient with IV checking temperature

If you are a cancer patient or survivor, this puts you in a high-risk group for getting the flu. Influenza/flu is very contagious and considered a respiratory illness. The symptoms are no different for a cancer patient.

Classic Flu Symptoms

  • Fever and chills
  • Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes
  • Sore throat

The CDC and doctors highly recommend that if you have cancer, you get your flu shot. According to the CDC, it makes no difference what type of cancer you have; you still need to get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.

Because you have cancer, you have a compromised immune system. Your compromised immune system opens the doors for secondary infections from the flu. To lower your risk for a secondary complication from the flu, get your flu vaccine every year.

The flu vaccine is so vital, you can get this shot at any stage of your chemotherapy. If you are a cancer survivor, you need to get your flu vaccine just like all adults and children.

You Cannot Get the Flu from the Flu Vaccine

The flu vaccine is made from a dead virus, not a live virus. Thus you cannot get the flu from a flu vaccine, even if you have a depressed immunity. If you have cancer, you should not receive any live flu vaccines. Intranasal vaccines contain a live virus. Never take this vaccine via the nose.

No friend or family member who lives with you should receive a live virus flu vaccination, but they do need to get a flu shot because your immunity level is low.

There are no reports that if you have cancer, you are guaranteed to get the flu any more than others. You do know that your cancer and treatments decreased your ability to ward off more common illnesses such as the flu, making you a more likely target. Your risks for secondary infections are higher than someone not fighting cancer or taking treatments.

If you suspect you have flu symptoms, visit your doctor and ask him or her about receiving an anti-viral medication like Relenza or Tamiflu. This drug helps to lessen the effects of the flu. They may also effectively ward off the flu. The CDC says that these antiviral medications are safe for people with cancer and depressed immunity.

Those with an immunity deficit needs to speak to their doctor about the protection that a pneumonia vaccine can provide, because if you are a cancer patient, you are susceptible to a bacterial infection called pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia, ear, and sinus infections.

These are secondary infections you can get when you are fighting the flu. Pneumonia and flu vaccine work hand-in-hand to keep you, a cancer patient at a lower risk for developing secondary infections caused by the flu.

Because Cancer Patients and Cancer Survivors live with a depressed immunity, they must be extra vigilant every day and especially during the flu season.

The following tips are important for everyone to follow and especially those with a depressed immunity such as a cancer patient.

  • Speak with your doctor about getting your flu every year and a pneumonia vaccine (every five to ten years)
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Stay away from people who have the flu or symptoms of the flu
  • Stay inside if you have the flu.
  • Wear a mask when out in crowds.
  • Drink plenty of fluids if this is alright with your doctor.
  • Eat regular balanced meals.
  • Get plenty of rest.

You can get your flu vaccination at your doctor’s office or Cancer Treatment Center.


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