The 411 on the seasonal flu and H1N1

What Ovarian Cancer Survivors Need To Know

Together with the White House, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance participated in a discussion about the flu, both seasonal and the H1N1 viruses. The discussion was led by cancer and vaccine experts at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Women with ovarian cancer have a higher chance of having complications from the flu virus. As a result, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance advises you to read the information provided below and consult your doctor about what actions you should take to protect yourself.


How can I protect myself from getting the flu?

Experts suggest vaccination.  In addition, you should wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face. 

Why are there two vaccines this year?

There are two vaccines for two different types of flus this year.  One is the seasonal flu, the other is H1N1 (commonly referred to as “swine flu”).  Both vaccines are made through the same process, and should have the same efficacy against the viruses.  As in previous years, anyone allergic to eggs should not receive the shot form of the vaccine.

If I am an ovarian cancer survivor, can I get the nasal spray/mist?  Should my family members that I am in close contact with get the nasal spray/mist?

People with compromised immune systems, including people in treatment or with a history of cancer should not get the nasal spray.  The nasal spray vaccine contains weakened live viruses.  These people should only get the shot, which contains dead viruses.

Individuals who do not have compromised immune systems, including caregivers of those with cancer, may opt to have the nasal spray vaccine.  The nasal spray/mist has only been approved for use in people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant and do not have compromised immune systems.

If I am an ovarian cancer survivor and am not in treatment, should I get a flu vaccine?

Medical experts recommend that if you have a history of cancer you should receive both the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 shot (not the nasal spray/mist).  People with a history of cancer are at high risk of complications from the flu.

If I am in treatment for ovarian cancer, should I get the flu vaccine?

If you are in treatment for cancer, medical experts recommend that you receive both the seasonal flu shot and the H1N1 shot (not the nasal spray/mist).  Dr. Bill Atkinson, vaccine expert at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommends that if you receive your vaccination while receiving chemotherapy, you should confer with your doctor about getting re-vaccinated following treatment.  There is no evidence that the flu shot will affect the efficacy of chemotherapy.

How do I get the vaccines?

Call your doctor to see what s/he can offer.  The H1N1 vaccine is being distributed to states through the federal government, which purchased the vaccine.  The seasonal flu vaccine is likely available at your doctor’s office, but may be found in retail stores such as pharmacies and grocery stores. The H1N1 vaccine is paid for by the federal government, but your provider may charge an administrative fee.  If your provider does not offer the H1N1 vaccine, call your State Department of Health.

After I get vaccinated, what should I do?

1)      Create a written record of your cancer and the treatment you are receiving and keep this   information with you at all times.

2)     Create a legible list of your medications and the time of day they are taken.

3)     Keep your doctor’s name, contact information, and office address with you at all times.

4)     Continue taking prescribed medications even if you are sick with the flu unless your doctor says otherwise.

5)     Be alert to changes in your breathing and contact your doctor immediately if you notice changes.

The Flu

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Seasonal flu symptoms may include fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills and fatigue. In the case of the H1N1 flu, symptoms may also include vomiting and diarrhea. If you get these symptoms and have a condition that would put you at increased risk of complications, such as ovarian cancer, call your health care provider.

Additionally, see your doctor immediately if you experience dizziness, confusion, severe/persistent vomiting, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or flu like symptoms that get better and then worse – this may indicate a secondary infection.

If your child has a bluish skin color, is not drinking fluids, lethargic, irritable, and/or has a rash, consult your doctor.

If I get the flu, what type of treatment can I get?

If you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you can receive anti-viral treatments, such as Tami flu and Rolenza.  Please see your doctor for treatment options, as not everyone will need or be eligible for treatment.

If I get the flu, what should I do?

Call your doctor to see what s/he recommends in terms of treatment.  It is also advised that you stay home as to not spread the flu virus and infect others.  If you must go out, consider a face mask.

If I am in treatment and I think I have the flu, what should I do?

Call your doctor immediately.  Your doctor will likely recommend anti-viral treatment, and the flu may affect your ability to receive chemotherapy on schedule.

Additional Resources

Microsoft Symptom Checker:

CDC Hotline: 1-800-CDC-INFO

Federal Government Web site:

*Disclaimer:  This is not medical advice.  Please consult your health care provider.