Patient to Peer: Vaccines and Chemotherapy

Today I received the results of my titer test; a test which determines the immunity of certain diseases. From my titer test, it showed that I am no longer immune to chickenpox; a vaccine we got at a very young age; and I need to repeat my hepatitis B vaccine, as that is no longer active either. While it’s something simple like receiving a couple shots and does not compare to chemotherapy and other treatments, it isn’t something that is ever mentioned, even as a patient.

Typically, patients who become un-immune to certain diseases from the damages of chemotherapy are patients of blood cancers, like leukemia. This is because their treatments are a lot longer in length and are very strenuous. However, I was a patient of osteosarcoma; a bone cancer. My oncologist never brought up to me that chemotherapy could make vaccines ineffective, primarily because it wasn’t something he believed could happen to me. Fortunately, my mother is a part of a group where other parents compare stories and experiences of cancer patients who have gone through or are currently going through treatments and she noticed that several patients ended up needing to get their vaccines redone because titer tests were showing that they were no longer immune. Some of the other patients, however, weren’t fortunate enough to have a titer test before finding out they were no longer immune, and they contracted the disease (some being chickenpox or mumps) even after their cancer treatments.

Which is why it is so important for parents to vaccinate their children because patients who have gone through chemotherapy and beaten cancer, can still have their immune systems compromised because they didn’t know to get a titer test. Even more so, in patients currently undergoing treatments are immunocompromised since their white blood cells (immune system cells) are being targeted by the chemotherapy and they have less, or often no, means to fight simple diseases, like the common cold, let alone something like mumps or chickenpox. Keeping everyone around patients vaccinated is the best way to keep patients themselves safe.