Don’t Forget to Fight the Flu (and Other Vaccine-preventable Diseases)

Whether you’re in cancer treatment or a long-term cancer survivor, keep in mind that it’s important to manage all aspects of your health. Some research has suggested that cancer survivors are less likely than other people to receive routine preventive care or management of chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.[1] Staying in touch with your primary care provider (in addition to your cancer specialists) may help you manage these other aspects of your health.

Flu vaccines are an important part of preventive care, particularly for people with a history of cancer or certain other health conditions. As a cancer survivor, you’re at increased risk of complications from the flu.[2] These complications can lead to hospitalization or even death.

To prevent the flu, cancer patients and cancer survivors are advised to get both a seasonal flu shot and an H1N1 flu shot (not the nasal spray vaccines).2 People who live with or care for someone with a history of cancer should also be vaccinated against the seasonal flu and H1N1.

If you have a history of cancer and develop flu symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. Symptoms of flu include fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, aches, headaches, chills, and fatigue. Depending on your circumstances, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug such as Tamiflu® (oseltamivir) or Relenza® (zanamivir).

You should also call your doctor if you’re a cancer patient or cancer survivor and have been exposed to someone with the flu.2 Your doctor may decide to use antiviral drugs to prevent the flu.

Finally, talk with your doctor about whether you’re up-to-date with other recommended vaccines. Pneumococcal vaccination, for example, is recommended for adults age 65 or older, as well as younger people who have certain health conditions.[3]

More information about vaccine recommendations and vaccine-preventable diseases is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):


[1] Earle CC, Neville BA. Under use of necessary care among cancer survivors. Cancer. 2004;101:1712-9.

[2] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cancer, the Flu, and You. Available at: Accessed January 8, 2010.

[3] Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule—United States, 2009. MMWR QuickGuide. January 9, 2009 / Vol. 57 / No. 53.