What You Should Know

Cancer patients may have an increased risk of getting the flu. They often have weakened immune systems, which makes them more susceptible to catching colds and the flu. And when they do catch something, it can be much more serious and/or harder for them to recover. This is why cancer patients are more likely to end up in the hospital from typical flu-related symptoms. Taking precautions can go a long way in your fight against cancer.


The Flu Shot

According to The American Cancer Society, it's important that cancer patients get a flu shot as early in the season as possible. Each member of the family or patient caretakers should get a flu shot as well. Some patients worry that getting the flu shot will make them sick or give them the flu, but The American Cancer Society says this is generally not the case. Side effects of the shot are not common, but could include muscle aches or a low-grade fever. These symptoms will go away quickly. Regardless, patients may wish to discuss it with their doctor before getting the shot.


Other Preventative Measures

The American Cancer Society provides several additional recommendations for avoiding the flu during the cold months.

  • Wash hands several times throughout the day with soap and the warmest water you can stand. This is the best way to keep from spreading germs.
  • Alcohol-based cleansers or wipes may also be helpful. They can be used not only on your hands but also on hard surfaces you may encounter in public such as restaurant tables or places where soap and hot water are not accessible.
  • Avoid touching your face--the flu is a respiratory virus and the nose and mouth are entry points for infection.
  • Stay away from crowds and at least six feet away from sick people. Germs tend to travel with the crowd so staying away will help protect a cancer patient.
  • Avoid children who attend daycare or school, even if they're not sick. The children (or teachers) are exposed to many germs that may not make them sick but could be harmful to a cancer patient.

Patients should make sure all of their vaccines are up to date, and should talk with their doctors ahead of time to determine what they should do if they happen to get the flu.


If You Get the Flu...

If you are showing symptoms of the flu, be sure to contact your oncologist immediately and tell them all the symptoms and when they began to appear. Symptoms can include some or all of the following:

  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Extreme tiredness

An anti-viral medicine may be an option, but this will work best within 48 hours of the first sign of symptoms. Your health is never a "bother" no matter what time of day so be sure to give your doctor a call if this happens to you. If you are being treated by one of the Virginia Cancer Specialists oncologists, click to view our physicians and their office’s information, including phone numbers.  You can also find office contact information on our Contact Us page.

"Should I Get a Flu Shot?" The American Cancer Society