flu shot

As flu season approaches, cancer patients often ask whether they should receive flu shots.

It’s difficult to deal with both a cancer diagnoses and treatment program. Wondering and worrying about the ways common health ailments may impact your treatment adds another layer of complexity during this difficult time.

Here are five fast facts about cancer and the flu:

Am I more at risk for getting the flu if I have cancer?

Both people with cancer and cancer survivors are at a higher risk for developing complications if they get the flu. However, it is unknown if patients and survivors are more likely to get the flu.

Should I get a flu shot?

If you are receiving treatment, you should always talk to your oncologist about getting a flu shot. If you’re in follow-up care, you can ask your primary care physician. Always ensure your oncologist is in the loop. Your care team can advise you on what type of flu preventive is best for you.

I’m currently undergoing cancer treatment — can I still get a flu shot?

Cancer treatment can sometimes weaken a patient’s immune system, putting the patient at a higher risk of serious problems from the flu. You can get a flu shot, but it is important you always ask your oncologist. You may have mild symptoms after getting the flu shot. This is normal, and the symptoms should subside within a few days. If you have questions or concerns, consult with your doctor.

When should I get the flu shot, and how often?

Flu shots become available before October, and it is generally advised to get one as soon as it is available. You should get a flu shot once a year. As a seasonal vaccine, it is adjusted as needed to protect against the upcoming year’s flu viruses. You should, however,  always talk to your oncologist about when and if you should get the flu shot.

How else can I protect myself from the flu?

Though it may be difficult to prevent getting the flu, you should:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
  • Get plenty of rest and maintain a healthy diet.
  • Encourage family/friends/caregivers to get the flu shot.
  • Avoid large crowds during flu season if you are undergoing active treatment.
  • Limit shaking hands.
  • Avoid symptomatic individuals.

Advise your doctor if you experience flu-like symptoms, including a fever, fatigue, or headache. Many of these symptoms may mimic cancer symptoms and side effects, so notify your doctor of any changes.

If you have questions about cancer and treatment of the disease, visit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center website or call 412-647-2811 to schedule an appointment.