Ask the Helpline

BCNA’s Helpline includes experienced cancer nurses who provide support and information.

Though the Helpline can’t provide personalised medical advice, the team can talk to you about concerns you may be experiencing and refer you to support available to assist you.

Here, the Helpline answers some common questions about breast cancer and treatment.

Is it harmful to receive vaccinations while having treatment for breast cancer?

It is generally recommended that vaccines are not given during chemotherapy or radiation treatments that may compromise your immune system. This is mainly because vaccines need an immune system to work and you may not get an adequate response during cancer treatment. There are also vaccines that contain live viruses that can cause infection in people with a weakened immune system. Therefore it is always important to talk to your oncologist before you receive any vaccination to make sure it is safe for you.

The immune system provides the body with the ability to resist infections by pathogens such as bacteria or viruses. Breast cancer and breast cancer treatments can weaken a person’s immune system and cause the body to be more vulnerable to infection.

People with weakened immune systems can get some vaccines but they should not get any vaccines that contain a ‘live’ virus. Live vaccines use a weakened (or attenuated) form of the pathogen that causes a disease. Live vaccines are not considered safe during cancer treatments that suppress the immune system as they may cause serious life-threatening infections. Examples of live virus vaccinations include:

  • Measles, mumps and rubella
  • Polio and smallpox
  • Varicella (chicken pox)
  • Varicella zoster (shingles)

The first three vaccinations are often given to you at a young age or you may also have had chicken pox when you were young. The shingles vaccine (Zostavax) is often recommended for people 70 years and over, but it is important that you wait until your treatment is complete and your immune system is fully recovered before you receive this vaccination.

There are some vaccines, however, that are generally considered safe if you are being treated for breast cancer. Vaccines such as the ‘flu shot’ are considered safe because they are not live vaccines. These types of vaccinations are called inactivated vaccines and can help your immune system respond to threats from the influenza virus.

It is always important to check with your doctor first about any vaccinations you may be considering in order to make sure they are safe for you and that you will receive the maximum benefit from the vaccine. For more information see:

Further references:

I’m really struggling with side effects from letrozole. The idea of taking it for years to come is daunting. Is it possible to take a break from taking letrozole?

Letrozole (Femara) is a type of aromatase inhibitor commonly used in hormone therapy for hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer.  Bone and joint pain, fatigue, dizziness, hot flushes and weight gain are common side effects of letrozole, and many people find that these really impact their quality of life.

Research has shown that taking a break from letrozole for up to three months in a 12-month period can be beneficial in terms of managing side effects without reducing the overall effectiveness of the treatment. If you are struggling with side effects from letrozole, you should speak to your health professional about the possibility of taking a break from it for a few months. However, if you’re not experiencing issues with side effects, you should continue taking it as prescribed.

Contact our Helpline

Call our Helpline on 1800 500 258 for free and confidential information, support and referral.
You can also contact our Helpline by emailing contact@nullbcna.org.au.
You can join our online network at bcna.org.au/onlinenetwork.

Issue 84
Autumn 2019