What Cancer Patients Need to Know About COVID-19 Vaccines

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gloved hand holding covid vaccine vial

If you are in treatment for cancer, you might be wondering if it’s all right to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

The answer to that question may depend on many factors, such as the type of vaccine, the type of cancer you have or have had, if you are in active treatment or if your immune system is working properly.

That said, most adults with cancer or a history of cancer can – and should – get a COVID-19 vaccine, says Ted Teknos, MD, President and Scientific Director of UH Seidman Cancer Center. This is because having an underlying medical condition such as cancer puts you at greater risk for developing a serious illness from the coronavirus, Dr. Teknos says.

This includes cancer patients getting treatment with drugs or therapies that suppress the immune system, such as chemotherapy, Dr. Teknos says.

“In general, there’s no evidence that there are extra safety concerns for cancer patients with the COVID-19 vaccine,” Dr. Teknos says. “In addition, those with a fragile immune system are at risk for severe COVID-19 disease. So getting even some protection from a COVID-19 vaccine is better than not having any protection at all.”

Important Issues for Cancer Patients

If you have had an allergic reaction to any cancer treatment, such as Taxol, however, it’s extremely important to talk with your cancer doctor (oncologist) before getting vaccinated, Dr. Teknos says.

“Cancer patients with a history of an allergic reaction to cancer treatment may still receive a vaccine, but it must be administered in a monitored setting with the medical capability to treat a reaction,” he says. Talk with your oncologist to identify the most appropriate place to get your COVID-19 vaccine.

Also, cancer patients in active treatment should check with their oncologist before receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Teknos says. Your oncologist will take into account your type of cancer and your individual treatment plan, as well as the timing of when you should get the vaccine.

Your doctor may suggest you get the vaccine between cancer treatments to help the vaccine work best and reduce risks.

“There is no data to suggest COVID-19 vaccines should affect your cancer treatment,” Dr. Teknos says. “However, some cancer treatments may affect how well these vaccines work.&rdquo

Swollen Lymph Nodes After COVID-19 Vaccination

Some people might have swelling or tenderness of lymph nodes under the arm where the vaccine is administered, Dr. Teknos says. This is a normal response by the body’s immune system, and indicates it is gearing up to fight a future COVID-19 infection, he says.

Swollen lymph nodes under the arm might cause concern, particularly for cancer patients, as this can also be a sign of cancer of the breast and other areas.

If you notice swollen or tender lymph nodes that do not go away after a few weeks – or if they continue to get larger – contact your doctor to discuss next steps, Dr. Teknos says.

Related Links

At University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, our team of caregivers provides the most advanced forms of cancer care -- from prevention, screening and diagnosis through treatment and survivorship. Our disease-focused teams design personalized cancer treatment plans for every patient who entrusts their care to us. Learn more about cancer care at UH Seidman Cancer Center.

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