Chemotherapy Treatment Causes High Risk Of Developing Shingles In Cancer patients

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Patients suffering from cancer and those treated with chemotherapy may be at 40 per cent increased risk of developing shingles, compared with those not having cancer, finds a new study. Shingles (herpes zoster) — marked by painful rashes and skin blisters — is caused by the varicella zoster virus that causes chickenpox. The virus remains dormant in the body but causes shingles if it reactivates later in life.

The study showed that patients with a blood-related cancer had the greatest shingles risk of more than three times compared to people without cancer, the Health Day reported. The higher risk among blood cancer patients was present two years before their cancer diagnosis.

In addition, those with a solid tumour including cancer in the lung, breast, prostate or other organs had a 30 per cent higher risk of shingles than people without cancer, lead researcher Jiahui Qian from the University of New South Wales in Australia was quoted as saying.

However, this greater risk was largely associated with receiving chemotherapy treatment, rather than with the cancer itself.

“These findings have important implications in view of recent advances in development of zoster vaccines,” added Kosuke Kawai from the University of Minnesota in the US.

Development of new vaccines might help prevent shingles in cancer patients and may be safe for people with weakened immune systems, including those receiving chemotherapy, according to the study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

For the study, the team included about 240,000 cancer patients in Australia.

A new shingles vaccine approved for use in the U.S. in 2017 does not use a live form of the virus and is likely to be safe in people with compromised immune systems, such as those on chemotherapy. The vaccine is not yet recommended for these individuals in the U.S., as public health officials await more data on the vaccine’s use in such patients. Another new shingles vaccine that uses an inactivated form of the virus is also in development. These advances suggest that vaccination holds great promise as a strategy to prevent shingles and its complications in cancer patients, the commentary and study authors both noted.

Fast Facts

  • Shingles, or herpes zoster, is an often painful skin condition caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, when the virus reactivates later in life.
  • People newly diagnosed with cancer, particularly blood-related cancers, and those treated with chemotherapy have a greater risk of developing shingles compared to patients without cancer, according to a new study.
  • The findings may help guide efforts to prevent shingles and its related complications in cancer patients through the use of new vaccines that do not use a live form of the shingles-causing virus.

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