Should People with Cancer and Cancer Survivors Get the Flu Vaccine?

October 3, 2019
Leslie Fannon Zhang, ASCO staff

Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine. If you are a person with cancer, a survivor, or a caregiver, the flu could be even more dangerous for you or your loved ones. If you have any questions, talk with your doctor about the vaccine. Make sure you get your flu shot this fall!

Why should I get the flu shot?

Cancer treatment can weaken the immune system and put people with cancer at an increased risk for problems from the flu.share on twitter These problems can include dehydration, sinus and ear infections, and bronchitis, which is inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. More serious problems include pneumonia, sepsis (a dangerous bodily reaction to infection), and inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues. 

When should I get my flu shot?

The best time to get your flu shot is in September and October. Some children may need 2 doses of the flu vaccine, so they should get their initial shot even earlier. The CDC also recommends that adults avoid early vaccination in July or August, because you may be less protected later in the season. This is especially true for older adults, who may also need a stronger dose of the flu shot.

It is never too late to get vaccinated during flu season. Late vaccination can still help, and your doctor should have access to the flu vaccine throughout the winter.

The flu shot is safe for most people with cancer. However, if you are currently receiving immunotherapy, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy or if you have recently had a transplant, talk with your doctor before you get your flu shot. They will help you determine the best time to get your flu shot, so you have the best protection without affecting your cancer treatment plan.

Is there more than 1 type of flu shot?

This flu season, there are 6 flu vaccine options. If you are 65 years or older or if you have a severe egg allergy, you should talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the different options available to you. The links below will take you to the CDC’s website for more information on each type of vaccine.

  • Standard-Dose Flu Vaccine: This year’s standard-dose flu vaccine will protect against 4 different flu viruses for those aged 6 months to 64 years. It is not recommended for people with a severe egg allergy or adults 65 and older.

  • High-Dose Flu Vaccine: Recommended for adults 65 years and older.

  • Flu Vaccine with Adjuvant: Another flu vaccine option for adults who are 65 years and older.

  • Cell-Based Flu Vaccines: This flu vaccine option is meant for people ages 4 and older with severe egg allergies.  

  • Recombinant Flu Vaccine: The recombinant flu vaccine is another option for those with severe egg allergies, but it is only recommended for people who are older than 18.

  • Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine: The nasal spray vaccine is an option this season for some people between the ages of 2 and 49. Do not get the nasal spray flu vaccine if you are pregnant, are 50 or older, have a weakened immune system, or are a caregiver for those who have a greatly weakened immune system. People with cancer and their caregivers should talk with the doctor before getting the nasal spray flu vaccine.

What else can I do to protect myself against the flu?

Getting your flu vaccine is just the first step in preventing the spread of the flu. Here are some other ways you can help stop the spread of illnesses: 

  • Encourage your friends, family, and coworkers to get the flu shot.

  • Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face.

  • Wear a mask when necessary, such as in a waiting room or on public transportation.

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

  • Stay home if you are feeling sick, and let your doctor know.

  • Wipe down surfaces at work, home, and school.