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Cancer, the Flu, and You

Your Questions Answered


Knowledge image

If you have cancer now or have had cancer in the past, you are at higher risk for complications from the flu. To help prepare you for the flu this season, here are answers to some of your most important flu-related questions.

What should adults with cancer know about this flu season?
Flu refers to illnesses caused by a number of differ­ent influenza viruses. The flu can cause a range of symptoms and effects, from mild to deadly. Some people, including people with cancer and survivors, are more likely to get flu complications. Symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. People also may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symp­toms without a fever.

Should I get a flu shot?
Yes. People with cancer and survivors are at higher risk for complications from the flu, even if they are now cancer-free. People with cancer or a history of cancer should receive the seasonal flu shot, not the nasal spray vaccine. People who live with or care for a person with cancer or a survivor should also be vaccinated against the seasonal flu.

People with cancer and survivors are at higher risk for complications from the flu, even if they are now cancer-free.

What can I do to help reduce the spread of the flu?
Develop good health habits to stop the spread of germs. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way. Try to stay at least six feet away from people who appear ill, and if you are sick, keep away from others as much as possible. Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds, and other social distancing measures. Be prepared in case you get sick with a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and tissues. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

What should I do if I think I may have the flu?
If you have received cancer treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy within the last month, or you have a blood or lymphatic form of cancer, call your doctor immediately if you get flu symp­toms or if you have been within six feet of someone known or suspected to have the flu. Your doctor may give you anti­viral drugs that stop flu viruses from reproducing in your body and can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

What other vaccines should I be aware of?
Many people in at-risk groups also should get a pneumococcal shot. People with cancer or other diseases that compromise the immune system should ask their doctors if two pneumococcal shots are needed.

Fluzone High-Dose is a flu vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc. specifically for people who are 65 years of age and older. Immune defenses become weaker with age, which places older people at greater risk of severe illness from the flu. Also, aging de­creases the body’s ability to have a good immune response after getting a flu shot. A higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is supposed to give older people a better immune response and better protection against the flu.

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Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2013.