Should People with Cancer and Cancer Survivors Get the Flu Vaccine?

August 29, 2023
ASCO Staff

This post is reviewed and updated each year in time for the U.S. flu season. It was first published October 3, 2019.

Every year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that nearly everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine. If you are a person with cancer, a survivor, or a caregiver, the flu could be even more dangerous for you or your loved ones. If you have any questions, talk with your doctor about the vaccine. Make sure you get your flu shot this fall!

Why should I get the flu shot?

Cancer treatment can weaken the immune system and put people with cancer at an increased risk for problems from the flu. These problems can include dehydration, sinus and ear infections, and bronchitis, which is inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. More serious problems include pneumonia, sepsis (a dangerous bodily reaction to infection), and inflammation of the heart, brain, or muscle tissues. 

When should I get my flu shot?

In general, the best time to get the flu shot is in September or October. The CDC specifically recommends that adults aged 65 and older avoid early vaccination in July or August if possible, because they may be less protected later in the season. But it’s important to talk with your doctor, as there are specific situations where it’s best to get the flu shot early. (Learn more about these exceptions on the CDC website.)

It is never too late to get vaccinated during flu season. Late vaccination can still help, and your doctor should have access to the flu vaccine throughout the winter.

Timing is particularly important for people getting or recovering from cancer treatment. Talk with your doctor about the best time for you to receive the flu shot, especially if you are currently receiving immunotherapy, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy or if you have recently had a transplant. They will help you determine the best plan for when to get your flu shot, so you have the best protection without affecting your cancer treatment plan.

Is there more than 1 type of flu shot?

Yes, and it’s important to ask which is best for you. For the 2023–2024 flu season, there are 6 flu vaccine options. All of the flu vaccine options described below are quadrivalent vaccines, which means they protect against the 4 different flu viruses that are expected to be most common during this flu season. If you are 65 years or older or if you have an egg allergy, you should talk with your doctor or pharmacist about the different options available to you. People with an egg allergy may receive any of the vaccines described below, so long as the vaccine is otherwise appropriate based on their age and overall health. The links below will take you to the CDC’s website for more information on each type of vaccine.

  • Standard-Dose Flu Vaccine: This year’s standard-dose flu vaccine is available for those aged 6 months to 64 years. It is not generally recommended for adults 65 and older. Different types of standard-dose flu vaccines are approved for different age groups, so talk with your doctor about which specific type of flu vaccine is recommended for you or different members of your family.

  • High-Dose Flu Vaccine: Recommended for adults 65 years and older, this vaccine contains 4 times the antigens of the standard-dose vaccine. Antigens are what help your body protect itself against the flu.

  • Flu Vaccine with Adjuvant: This is another flu vaccine option for adults who are 65 years and older. An adjuvant is the type of ingredient added to the vaccine in order to help the body have a stronger immune response.

  • Cell-Based Flu Vaccines: This flu vaccine option is meant for people 6 months and older. Instead of growing the flu viruses in eggs, this vaccine uses flu viruses that are grown in cultured cells.   

  • Recombinant Flu Vaccine: The recombinant flu vaccine is another option for adults 65 years and older. Eggs are not used in the production of this vaccine. It is only recommended for people who are older than 18.

  • Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine: Also called live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), the nasal spray vaccine is an option for some people between the ages of 2 and 49. Do not get the nasal spray flu vaccine if you are pregnant, are 50 or older, have a weakened immune system, or are a caregiver for those who have a greatly weakened immune system. There are additional people who should not get the nasal spray flu vaccine. People with cancer and their caregivers should talk with the doctor before getting the nasal spray flu vaccine.

What else can I do to protect myself against the flu?

Getting your flu vaccine is just the first step in preventing the spread of the flu. Here are some other ways you can help stop the spread of illnesses: 

  • Encourage your friends, family, and coworkers to get the flu shot. This provides a ring of protection around you, too.

  • Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your face.

  • Wear a mask as directed by public health officials and your doctor’s recommendations.

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.

  • Stay home if you are feeling sick, and let your doctor know.

  • Wipe down surfaces regularly with a disinfectant cleaner at work, home, and school, especially areas that you touch often, such as counters, phones, and handles on doors, faucets, and appliances.


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