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Cancer and the Flu Shot

patient receiving flu shot

October brings cold weather, colorful leaves, and the start of flu season. If you have cancer, getting the flu may lead to more serious health problems. Read this Q&A to learn more about the flu, the flu shot, and other ways to prevent sickness.

Q: What is the flu?

A: The flu is a virus that can make you feel really sick. The flu can affect people differently. Children, the elderly, and those with a chronic illness, including cancer, may need to go to the hospital if they get the flu. When you protect yourself from the flu, you also lower the chance it will spread to people at risk for serious flu complications.

Q: What are signs of the flu?

A: For most people, the flu causes these symptoms:

  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat

These symptoms can last for two weeks. Each person reacts to the flu differently. If you think you may have the flu, talk with your doctor. Your doctor can order a quick test to see if you have the flu.

person sick with flu graphic

Q: Can the flu shot give me the flu?

A: No. The flu shot is an inactive virus version of the flu. This means it cannot spread to others and it cannot make you sick. You may have a sore arm, feel hot, or ache a bit from the shot. These side effects should only last a few days.

Q: How does the flu shot work?

A: The flu shot gives your body a version of the flu. Your body then starts making antibodies. Antibodies are part of the body’s illness-fighting system. The antibodies get ready to protect your body from the flu virus if you catch it. Your body will be able to fight it more quickly, and you will not get as sick.

Q: If I have cancer, can I still get the flu shot?

A: Yes. Most patients can still get the flu shot. Some treatments may weaken your immune system. It is best to talk with your doctor if you have any concerns before you receive the flu shot.

mask graphic

Q: How can I protect my family and myself from the flu?

A: The flu shot is a great first step. Here are more tips on how to avoid the flu and other viruses that cause illness.

  • Wash your hands. Use soap and warm water, alcohol-based cleaners, or wipes.
  • Wipe down areas that are touched daily:
    • Doorknobs and handles
    • Light switches
    • Bathroom faucets
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Try to stay away from sick people.
  • If you do get sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of a fever-relief medicine).
  • If you feel sick, wear a mask around others.
  • Keep your home ready in case you do get sick. Have things you may need at home, such as tissues and cold medicine, so you do not need to go out to get them.

Cancer touches all of us.