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Cancer, the Flu, and You

What Cancer Patients, Survivors, and Caregivers Should Know About the Flu

Photo of a multi-generation family sitting on a sofa

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season.

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.

To help prepare you for the flu this season, CDC answers some of your most important questions about special considerations for cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.

Are cancer patients and survivors more likely to get the flu than others?

While we don’t know this specifically, we do know that cancer may increase your risk for complications from the flu. If you have cancer now or have had certain types of cancer in the past (such as lymphoma or leukemia), you are at high risk for complications from the seasonal flu or influenza, including hospitalization and death.

Should cancer patients and survivors get a flu shot?

Yes. People with cancer or a history of cancer should receive the seasonal flu shot. People with cancer should NOT receive the nasal spray vaccine because their immune system may be weakened. The flu shot is made up of inactivated (killed) viruses, and the nasal spray vaccine is made up of live viruses. The nasal spray vaccine is not approved for use in people with weakened immune systems (immunosuppression). The flu shot can be given to people 6 months and older even if they have a weakened immune system or other health conditions.

People who live with or care for cancer patients and survivors also should be vaccinated against seasonal flu. Additionally, CDC recommends that everyone aged six months and older get a flu vaccine for the upcoming season.

What other vaccines should cancer patients and survivors be aware of?

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.

Fluzone High-Dose is a flu vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc. specifically for people who are 65 years of age and older. Immune defenses become weaker with age, which places older people at greater risk of severe illness from flu. Also, aging decreases the body’s ability to have a good immune response after getting a flu shot. A higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is supposed to give older people a better immune response and better protection against flu.