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Cancer, the Flu, and You

A doctor giving a flu shot to a female patient

Living with cancer increases your risk for complications from influenza ("flu"). If you have cancer now or have had cancer in the past, you are at higher risk for complications from the seasonal flu or influenza, including hospitalization and death.

Get Your Flu Shot!

People with cancer or a history of cancer, and people who live with or care for cancer patients and survivors, should get a seasonal flu shot. People with cancer should NOT get the nasal spray vaccine. The flu shot is made up of inactivated (killed) viruses, and the nasal spray vaccine is made up of live viruses. The flu shot is safer for those with a weakened immune system.

Many people who are at increased risk for flu are also at increased risk for pneumococcal disease. People with cancer or other diseases that compromise your immune system should ask their health care providers if pneumococcal shots are needed.

Help Prevent the Flu from Spreading

People with flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away. You may be able to infect others beginning the day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after becoming sick. That means that you may be able to pass the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

Besides getting your flu shot, practicing good health habits will help stop the flu from spreading. For example—

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash your hands often, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Try to stay at least six feet away from people who look sick.

What to Do If You Get Sick

Make a plan in advance with your doctor about what to do if you get sick. The plan includes when you should call your doctor, whether you will need antiviral medication, and how to get a prescription for antiviral medication quickly if needed.

If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. Keep away from others as much as possible to avoid making them sick.

If you are caring for a cancer patient or survivor who has the flu, please visit The Flu: Caring for Someone Sick at Home for detailed information about how to care for the sick person while avoiding getting sick yourself.

Flu Treatment for Cancer Patients and Survivors

CDC recommends oseltamivir or zanamivir antiviral drugs to treat and prevent infection. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that stop flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

If you have received cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy within the last month, or have a blood or lymphatic form of cancer, call your doctor immediately if you have been within six feet of someone known or suspected to have the flu. Your doctor may give you antiviral drugs to help prevent the flu.

If you have cancer and have not received treatment within the last month, or you have had cancer in the past but are cancer-free now, and you have had close contact with someone known or suspected to have the flu, call your doctor and ask if you should receive antiviral drugs.

More Information

 
Contact Us:
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    Division of Cancer Prevention and Control
    c/o CDC Warehouse
    3719 N Peachtree Rd
    Building 100 MS F-76
    Chamblee GA 30341
  • 800-CDC-INFO
    (800-232-4636)
    TTY: (888) 232-6348
  • Contact CDC-INFO
Protect Yourself and Get a Flu Shot
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800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) TTY: (888) 232-6348 - Contact CDC–INFO
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