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Vaccinations can reduce your chance of getting certain infections, by stimulating your body’s natural defences.
If you’ve had a particular type of cancer or cancer treatment, you may not be able to have some of the vaccinations you need in order to travel to some parts of the world. This may affect your choice of holiday location.
Live ‘attenuated’ vaccines use tiny amounts of the live virus or bacteria. The virus or bacteria used in these type of vaccines have been changed (attenuated) so that they don’t cause the infection. The vaccines stimulate the immune system to develop white blood cells (antibodies) to protect against the infection.
If you have a weak immune system, you should not have live vaccines. Your immune system may be weakened if you:
Your immune system can also be weakened by high doses of steroids or immunosuppressive drugs that are used to treat certain autoimmune diseases. Live vaccines can be administered after completing immunosuppressive treatments, but time scales do vary and the advice of your specialist should ideally be sought before vaccination.
Vaccinations given as live vaccines include:
Some people may need to avoid live vaccines for the rest of their lives - for example if they’ve had a lymphoma or leukaemia, or if their cancer is related to HIV infection.
Check with your GP or cancer specialist whether it’s safe for you to have live vaccinations.
Although inactivated vaccines aren’t dangerous and are safe after cancer treatment, they may be less effective in people who have low immunity. Inactivated vaccines include:
If you’ve had high-dose chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant|, you may have lost immunity to diseases that you were previously vaccinated against. You may need to be re-vaccinated after your treatment has ended.
The vaccinations you may need for your holiday will depend on where you’re going. If you have lymphoedema| in an arm, it’s important to make sure that vaccinations are given in the unaffected arm.
If you have cancer that affects your spleen, you may have had your spleen removed (this is called a splenectomy). You’ll have a lower resistance to particular types of infection|. Vaccinations against pneumonia and meningitis are recommended. Before travelling, your doctor should give you a supply of antibiotics and tell you when to take them.
Malaria can be especially severe if you’ve had your spleen removed, and you may want to avoid travelling to countries where malaria is common. Malaria is a risk in many tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world, including parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, South America, South Asia and the Pacific region. If you wish to travel to a country affected by malaria, it’s essential to have appropriate protection. However, no anti-malarial tablets provide total protection, and it’s important to use bed nets and insect repellents (preferably one containing DEET – diethyltoluamide) to reduce your risk of getting malaria.
You can get more information about vaccinations at on the NHS website| or by contacting MASTA|.
Content last reviewed: 1 October 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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