Should You Get a Flu Vaccine?

Find out why cancer patients and survivors are among those who benefit most from receiving their annual flu vaccines.

If you are looking for the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu this winter, experts agree, it starts with the flu vaccine. Take the first step: Talk to your oncologist about whether the flu vaccine is right for you.

Why Should I Get a Flu Vaccine?

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

  • Your risk of getting the flu significantly decreases.

  • 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 also 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.

What Flu Vaccines are Recommended?

For the 2017-18 flu season, experts recommend only the injectable, inactivated flu vaccine. This vaccine doesn’t contain the live flu virus and won’t cause the flu.

There are two types of inactivated flu vaccines—your doctor will suggest the best vaccine for your age and health:

  • The standard dose trivalent (three-component) flu vaccine, which protects against three types of flu viruses.

  • The quadrivalent (four-component) flu vaccine, which offers the same protection as the trivalent vaccine plus an additional virus strain protection.

The vaccine helps prepare your immune system to fight off the flu virus. Getting your flu vaccine as early as possible helps your body build up your immune defense and protect you before flu season starts.

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.

Potential Side Effects

Most people experience no noticeable side effects from the flu vaccine. A small percentage of people do have a mild reaction such as 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 oncologist immediately if you experience:

  • Swelling of the lips or eyes

  • Hives

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Hoarseness

  • Weakness or fatigue

  • High fever

  • Dizziness

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Behavioral changes

Talking With Your Doctor

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 doctor 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.