Should People With Cancer Get a Flu Shot?


Our friends at the CDC want to remind you that it’s not too late
to get vaccinated for the 2013 flu season! 

* This article was originally posted Feb 15, 2013

As an oncologist, my patients, their family and their friends, constantly ask me, “What else can I do to help?”

Here’s a simple, but serious answer. “Fight Flu.”

Cancer and its therapy can dramatically affect a person’s immune system. Respiratory viruses, from the common cold to influenza, can not only lead to sickness and misery among those with cancer, but they can truly be deadly. On our bone marrow transplant and acute leukemia unit this week alone, we have had two new cases of influenza. And you’ve probably heard that this year’s flu is particularly nasty.

The steps to fight flu are straight forward, and our partners at the CDC lead the way with flu fighting instructions:

1.    Vaccinate: Every year, persons of high risk (like those with cancer), and equally important, those who live with and care for them, should receive the influenza vaccine.
2.    Stop Germs: Limit the spread with good hygiene, and if you have symptoms such as fever, cough, or sneezing, avoid contact with others. On our hospital unit, we screen on entry and anyone with suspicious symptoms including friends, family, or healthcare providers must stay away.
3.    Antiviral Drugs: Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics for bacterial infections. They are specific for viruses and they can help to reduce the symptoms and duration of illness. For people at risk for serious infections, such as those with cancer, these drugs are recommended. But they must be started as early as the first 48 hours from the onset of symptoms, so don’t delay in seeking health care.

Please help us to help those with cancer, and spread the word about fighting flu.

For more information from the CDC about cancer and flu, check out the answers to your most important questions at

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