Stacy Martin, RN, BSN, CIC, is the manager of Infection Prevention & Control at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.
Flu season is around the corner, and like every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has endorsed an annual flu shot as the first and best way to protect yourself from the flu.
The flu is a virus that causes mild to severe infections in people of all ages. Most hospitalizations and deaths occur in people older than 65. But it can also lead to severe disease and death in children and young adults. The flu can be a serious problem for people with suppressed immune systems, including people with cancer. The flu can be really serious for those with lung cancer.
If you have cancer, here are 5 things to know about flu and the flu vaccine:
All people with cancer should talk with their health care team about receiving a flu shot. People receiving chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy should discuss the best time to get a flu shot.
Patients who are receiving intensive chemotherapy or those who have received anti-B-cell antibodies within 6 months may have side effects with a flu vaccine, but it is highly unlikely.
Everyone who is in regular contact with a person with cancer should also be vaccinated. This can make it less likely that a person with cancer will get the flu.
Getting a flu shot every year is recommended for most people, but a 2017 study in Switzerland showed that people with lung cancer who are treated with PD-1/PD-L1 immunotherapy drugs had an increased rate of negative effects on the immune system after vaccination. This study looked only at a small number of patients, but it is a concern because immunotherapy is now a standard cancer treatment for lung cancer. The researchers in this study didn’t suggest that doctors should stop recommending the flu vaccine to people with cancer, but that further studies are needed. If you have lung cancer and take immunotherapy, talk with your health care team about whether a flu shot is right for you.
Flu viruses are continuously changing, so the vaccines change every year to match the flu viruses that are most likely to be going around. This typically includes 3 or 4 viruses. During the 2017/2018 flu season, the strains include 2 influenza A viruses and 2 influenza B viruses. This is why everyone needs to get a flu shot every year.