August is National Immunization Awareness Month. Thanks to immunizations many diseases are no longer a public health threat in the United States. For example, polio is a deadly disease that can lead to paralysis. Thanks to vaccines, the US has been polio-free since 1979!
Staying up-to-date on immunizations is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. The vaccines you need depends on your health, age, work environment, and travel plans. Talk to your doctor about a good vaccination schedule for you.
In honor of Immunization Awareness Month, keep reading to learn the answers to some common questions about vaccines.
What is the difference between vaccination and immunization?
Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they have slightly different meanings. Vaccination is the process of receiving a vaccine, typically a shot or injection. The vaccine introduces the disease or illness into your body in a safe amount so your immune system will recognize the disease and know how to fight it if you are ever exposed again. Immunization is the process of your body building this immunity to a disease. You can have immunization to a disease from a vaccine or in some cases, by having had the disease in the past. For example, people who have had chicken pox do not need a vaccine as their body already has immunity and knows how to fight the disease.
What vaccines do cancer patients need?
For cancer survivors, immunizations are especially important because cancer treatments weaken the body’s immune system. The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting the annual flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccines. Caregivers or anyone living with a cancer survivor should also receive the flu vaccine to lower the risk of infection.
According to the CDC, some vaccines are not safe for people with weakened immune systems, such as some cancer patients, to receive. People with weakened immune systems should not receive the varicella (chicken pox), zoster (shingles), or MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine. If you received the vaccines before treatment, there is no harm done, and it is good that you are protected from these diseases. However, it is not safe to receive them with a weakened immune system. You will need to wait until your condition improves.
Talk to your healthcare team about which vaccines you need. If you are planning to travel, especially outside of the country, let you healthcare team know as you may need additional vaccinations.
Can vaccines prevent cancer?
Certain viruses can cause cancer. Vaccines that prevent these viruses also greatly reduce the risk of cancer associated with the virus. The Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine protects against cervical cancer, anal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, vaginal, vulvar, and penile cancers. The Hepatitis B virus (HBV) vaccine reduces the risk of hepatitis-associated liver cancer.
Can vaccines treat cancer?
Yes! A newer form of cancer treatment is vaccine therapy. Vaccines are a form of immunotherapy. Vaccine therapy works by stimulating the immune system to destroy malignant tumors. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved cancer treatment vaccines for metastatic prostate cancer and metastatic melanoma that cannot be surgically removed. Vaccines are also being studied in clinical trials to treat other forms of cancer.
Learn more about immunizations on My PearlPoint.