Cancer patients know – everything looks different after you get your diagnosis. No matter the severity or type of cancer, the shock that comes with the news and the treatment that follows, it will make you see everything around you as varying “risk factors.” Especially during COVID-19, you may have questions about what’s safe for patients and survivors. To answer a few questions you might have about the flu shot, we spoke with Ahmed Awais, MD, an oncologist at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at North Colorado Medical Center and Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center at McKee Medical Center.
Is the Flu Shot Safe?
Not only is the flu shot safe, it keeps you safe. “Fighting cancer weakens your immune system,” said Dr. Awais, “which makes you more susceptible to complications of the flu. This means that catching the flu for a cancer patient is more dangerous than it is for their healthy peers. The risk is even higher for seniors with a cancer diagnosis.”
Flu complications could put your treatment plan at risk or worsen your condition in general. Getting a flu shot will decrease your likelihood of illness so that you can continue fighting cancer without interruption. Dr. Awais reminded that “the flu vaccine, given as a shot, contains inactivated versions of the virus and will not make you sick with the flu.” The nasal version of the vaccine contains attenuated (weakened) proteins. While this still shouldn’t make you sick, it may not be recommended for patients with compromised immune systems.
How Does Cancer Affect the Flu?
As mentioned, your immune system is compromised during cancer treatment. Certain types of cancer could add even more risk to your case. For example, patients with lung or throat cancer could experience serious complications from coughing and inflammation in the lungs. Cancers in other organs could also increase your risks significantly as infection and inflammation make it even harder for the organs to do their job. Getting your flu shot will decrease the risk of these additional challenges.
Is There Anyone that Shouldn’t Get a Vaccination?
In almost every case, getting the vaccine is the right thing to do. However, there are a few things to consider. Your doctor may recommend scheduling your vaccine around chemotherapy treatments or you may need to take special precautions if you have a severe allergy to egg proteins. It’s rare for anyone to be outright ineligible for the vaccine. But Dr. Awais recommended speaking with your doctor as you plan for your flu shot.
Got My Vaccine. Now What?
The vaccine will help protect you, but it’s not a guarantee. Keep yourself safe by washing your hands often, getting your recommended sleep/diet/exercise, avoiding close contact with the sick and sanitizing surfaces regularly. If you do get sick, contact your doctor right away to make any adjustments or additions to your ongoing treatment.
This year, it’s more important than ever to get your flu shot early. Schedule your flu vaccination today with a Banner Urgent Care or Banner Health Clinic. If you are feeling sick, get help quickly with options for virtual and in-person visits at bannerhealth.com.