If you're a cancer patient or survivor, chances are you've wondered: Should I get the H1N1 flu vaccine? Anyone with a compromised immune system may be more susceptible to infections like the flu. But the information about the swine flu vaccine has been everything from reassuring to confusing, leaving many of us wringing our hands with worry.
The CDC recommends the H1N1 vaccine for anyone between the ages of 25-64 with a compromised immune system. Donna Peach, a blogger and survivor with metastatic breast cancer, wrote that she went back and forth about whether or not to get the vaccine. She ultimately did and has experienced no side effects.
In an article from the MDS Beacon, Dr. Bart Scott, an MDS specialist at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, recommends that people with impaired immune systems get the H1N1 shot, but not the nasal spray, which contains a live version of the virus and can cause the flu. (Myelodysplastic syndromes [MDS] are a collection of blood and bone marrow disorders, and can be a side effect of chemo or radiation treatment.)
On the other side of the fence are the researchers and everyday folks who question the effectiveness of a flu vaccine of any kind—and wonder if the potential side effects are worth it, especially for immune-compromised people. Recent research in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine casts doubt on the commonly held assumption that the flu vaccine significantly reduces the number of deaths from flu-related pneumonia. Rather, it may be the "healthy-user effect"—meaning that people with healthier habits choose to get the vaccine in the first place and those habits, not the vaccine, are why they stay healthy.
In the end, the decision about whether or not to vaccinate is a personal one that people should discuss with their doctors and their families. What do you think? Is the H1N1 vaccine a do or a don't for cancer patients?
Tips to Prevent Swine Flu
American Cancer Society prevention tips
Centers for Disease Control vaccination recommendations