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Understanding Vaccines and Cancer


August is National Immunization Awareness Month

National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) is in August, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the CDC website, the month is dedicated to highlighting “the importance of vaccination for people of all ages.”

Activities and campaigns that take place during NIAM are conducted by national medical associations, statewide organizations, hospitals, and individual practices. The CDC provides numerous tools such as sample newsletters, graphics, and other resources to spread their messages about vaccinations to health care professionals, parents, and patients.

Vaccines and Cancer Patients

Cancer patients are often told to forego vaccines during treatment. The reason is that vaccines require your body to have an immune response.
When someone is getting chemo or radiation, their body might be unable to produce an adequate response. The vaccine would not necessarily be unsafe; it just might not do its job.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), however, the “flu shot” is almost always an exception.

Of course, speaking to your oncologist before getting any vaccine is essential.

Vaccines to Prevent Infections that Can Cause Cancer

There are two vaccines available to lower the risk of certain infections believed to help cause particular cancers. These vaccines are commonly referred to as the HPV vaccine and Hepatitis B, or HBV vaccine.

They don’t target cancer because the cancer has not formed yet. But they can help prevent viruses that increase the risk of developing cancer.

The ACS states, “Some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) have been linked to cervical, anal, throat, vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers. In fact, most cervical cancers are caused by infection with HPV. Vaccinating children and certain young adults against HPV helps protect against cervical cancer and the other 5 cancers HPV can cause.”

The ACS describes the HBV vaccine in the following manner: “People who have chronic (long-term) infections with hepatitis B virus (HBV) are at a higher risk for liver cancer. Getting the vaccine to help prevent HBV infection may lower some people’s risk of getting liver cancer.”

Vaccines to Kill Cancer

Cancer vaccines don’t prevent cancer. Instead, they cause the body to have an immune response, so it attacks cancer itself. The vaccines increase your own body’s ability to fight off cancer cells.

There are currently approved vaccines to treat advanced prostate cancer and certain melanoma skin cancers. Several others have shown promise in trials.

What Can You Do During National Immunization Awareness Month?

  • Educate yourself- understand the impact of vaccines on the current and future health of yourself and your family
  • Educate a friend- if you know someone with cancer, help them understand the risks and rewards of vaccines and how they can affect their health and treatments.
  • Ask questions and make informed decisions-find out all you can about vaccines so you can make decisions that are in your best interest and that of your family and the public.

Help Someone You Know Getting Chemo or Radiation

At Rock the Treatment, we make it easy to let someone with cancer know you care and support them on their difficult journey. If someone you love has  cancer, send a helpful cancer gift basket from Rock The Treatment. Chemotherapy and radiation gift baskets are packed with the essentials needed to ease side effects of treatment, as well as enhance physical and mental well-being. See all of our cancer care packages and find the one that best supports their journey.


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