If you have cancer, you may be more at risk of getting an illness like flu or pneumonia. Certain drug treatments can also lower your immune system and make you more vulnerable to these illnesses.
Ask your doctor if there are any vaccinations you should have to protect yourself. For example:
- Flu vaccine – recommended for most cancer patients.
- Pneumococcal vaccines (to protect against pneumonia, septicaemia blood poisoning and meningitis) – recommended for most cancer patients who are under hospital supervision.
Vaccinations during treatment
When to have vaccinations
The best time to get any recommended vaccines is 2 weeks before treatment. Vaccines can still be given after you’ve started treatment but they may not work as well.
The flu vaccine is only given during flu season (October-April). Try and get the vaccine as soon as possible during flu season.
Live vaccines are usually not recommended if you’re having a treatment that can lower your immune system, such as certain chemotherapy and other cancer drugs. Your doctor will decide what’s suitable for you, based on your own situation.
When vaccines are not suitable…
Vaccines are not suitable:
- For patients on combination checkpoint inhibitors (e.g. ipilumumab plus nivolumab)
- For patients with severe neutropenia (a very low white blood cell count)
Getting the flu vaccine: People with cancer are recommended to get the flu vaccine every year, but you should always talk to your doctor before having any vaccinations. The flu vaccine itself is free for people with cancer, but you may have to pay a GP or pharmacist to give you the vaccine if you don’t have a medical card or GP visit card.
People around you
It’s best if your friends and family and anyone taking care of you is also vaccinated. Encourage them to have the flu vaccine and to check if they need any other recommended vaccines, ideally before you start treatment.
Vaccinations after treatment
Having any vaccines recommended for you can be an important part of staying well after a cancer diagnosis. For example, you may be advised to have the flu and pneumonia vaccines. Check with your doctor which vaccines you should have and make sure you get them. You may be advised to wait for a few weeks or months after treatment before you get certain vaccines.
If you’ve had a bone marrow/stem cell transplant, then you will need a course of vaccines once your treatment is finished. Your doctor will advise you of what vaccines you will need and when you should have them.
Vaccinations for travel
You may also need vaccinations for certain diseases if you are travelling abroad.
Talk to your doctor about vaccinations before booking your holiday – you will need to consider your health when choosing where you want to go.
For some countries the recommended vaccinations may be harmful if you are receiving certain treatments, for example, certain cancer drugs. If this is the case, you will be advised not to travel to these countries.
Vaccines that you may need to avoid include live vaccines for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), BCG (tuberculosis), yellow fever and typhoid. Ask your doctor’s advice before you plan a trip abroad and check which vaccines are safe for you.
See our section on holidays and travel for more travel tips.
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