Shingles is a viral infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is also responsible for chickenpox. It is characterized by a painful rash on one side of the body or face. People diagnosed with cancer are at a higher risk of developing shingles and related complications. The main reason for this is because cancer and its treatments can compromise the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infections 1.
The link between shingles and cancer is not well understood. However, people diagnosed with lung cancer and other solid tumor cancers (such as breast, colon, and rectal cancers) are at a higher risk of developing shingles. The highest risk for shingles in people with solid tumor cancers includes those who have been recently diagnosed and are undergoing chemotherapy. The risk of developing shingles is also higher in people with blood-related cancers 1.
A 2019 study of 240,000 people found that people diagnosed with cancer had a 40% higher risk of developing shingles than those who did not have a cancer diagnosis. When compared to the general population, people with cancer are two to four times more likely to develop shingles 1.
Shingles can cause complications in people with cancer, including postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) and vision problems. PHN is a condition characterized by persistent pain in the area where the shingles rash occurred. It can last for months or even years after the rash has healed. Vision problems can occur if the shingles rash affects the eye 1.
The shingles vaccine is safe and effective for people diagnosed with and being treated for cancer. The vaccine can reduce the risk of shingles and PHN by over 90%, with immunity lasting at least seven years following vaccination. Because the vaccine does not contain a live, weakened virus, it is suitable and recommended for people who have compromised immune systems 1.
Two types of shingles vaccines were previously available in the United States: Zostavax and Shingrix. Zostavax is no longer available for use. Shingrix, a recombinant vaccine containing a component of the virus that allows for a strong immune response, is the currently recommended shingles vaccine. Shingrix is administered in a two-dose series, with the second dose administered two to six months after the first. Shingrix is recommended for use in people aged 50 and older 1.
In conclusion, people diagnosed with cancer are at a higher risk of developing shingles and related complications. The shingles vaccine is safe and effective for people diagnosed with and being treated for cancer. The vaccine can reduce the risk of shingles and PHN by over 90%, with immunity lasting at least seven years following vaccination.