Flu Shots While on Chemotherapy

Last Modified: November 20, 2005

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
My wife has metastasis in the bones after she had breast cancer. Now she is taking Xeloda. I would like to know if she can have a flu injection while taking Xeloda?

Answer

Carolyn Vachani RN, MSN, AOCN, OncoLink's Medical Correspondent, responds:

We do suggest that our patients receive the flu shot, but to schedule the shot in between treatments, at a time when the white blood cell count is close to normal. The vaccine is made from an inactivated virus, so there is no risk of getting the flu from the shot. The vaccine works by causing the body to produce an immune response against the flu virus. But our concern is that, if the immune system is suppressed, the patient may not produce that immune response, thus making the vaccine ineffective.

Similarly, patients undergoing bone marrow or stem cell transplants, or some patients with leukemia, may not be able to mount the immune response necessary to make the vaccine effective. In addition, there are several contraindications to the flu vaccine, including an allergy to eggs or a history of Guillan Barre Syndrome, so, as always, discuss your particular case with your doctor.