Flu Season is Here: Are You Ready?

A blue box of tissues sits near crumpled tissue on a bright yellow background.

Cancer patients and survivors are among those who benefit most from receiving their annual flu vaccines. 

If you’re looking for the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu, experts agree it starts with the flu vaccine. Before getting your flu shot, be sure to talk with your care team. There may be medical considerations to discuss.

Why Should I Get the Flu Vaccine?

Here’s a quick look at why doctors recommend most people with cancer, as well as cancer survivors, get the flu vaccination every year:

  • Your risk of getting the flu decreases significantly.

  • Cancer and cancer treatments can weaken the immune system, which can increase the risk of getting the flu and experiencing complications from the virus.

  • Getting the flu could delay your cancer treatment.

  • It helps you avoid hospitalization, which could be necessary if you get the flu.

  • On the off chance you still get the flu, the illness will be much less severe.

  • It helps prevent the flu from spreading to others.

Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine?

Those at risk of serious complications from the flu should get vaccinated. This includes people with chronic illnesses, those experiencing immunosuppression, pregnant women, adults older than 65 and young children.

Caregivers and family members of high-risk individuals should also get the flu vaccine each year.

When Should I Get the Flu Vaccine?

Getting your flu vaccine as early as possible helps your body build up your immune defense and protect you before flu season starts. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend getting a vaccine by the end of October. Even in January and later in the year, there are still benefits to getting a shot.

What Flu Vaccines Are Recommended?

Every year, health experts assess flu risks and tailor the vaccine to protect against the flu virus strains likely to appear in the coming season. Since vaccines wear off over time, doctors recommend an annual flu vaccine.

For the 2018-19 flu season, experts recommend the injectable quadrivalent (four-component) and trivalent (three-component) inactivated flu vaccine for those with cancer. This vaccine doesn’t contain the live flu virus and won’t cause the flu. Those with cancer should not get FluMist, the nasal spray that includes the live flu virus.

What Are the Potential Side Effects?

Most people experience no noticeable side effects from the flu vaccine. A small percentage of people do have mild swelling and pain at the injection site, light-headedness, fever, nausea, aches, cough and congestion.

Severe side effects can happen within minutes to hours after receiving the flu vaccine. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Swelling of the lips or eyes

  • Hives

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Hoarseness

  • Weakness or fatigue

  • High fever

  • Dizziness

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Behavioral changes

Talk With Your Care Team

While the vaccine can help prevent the flu, some people may need to forgo the flu vaccine, including those who:

  • Are allergic to any of the vaccine ingredients

  • Have had a severe reaction to the flu vaccine in the past

  • Have an illness with a fever (you’ll need to wait until the illness has passed)

  • Have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome

Your care team will be able to provide information about alternatives or other options if you fall into one of these categories.

If you’re currently receiving cancer treatments, are in remission or have questions about the flu vaccine, talk to your healthcare team.