One of the concerns for some people with cancer is whether COVID-19 vaccinations would work during cancer treatment. Would the combination of the two offset each other or make the vaccines less effective against coronavirus infection?
A study published in JAMA Oncology should put this concern to rest.
People with solid tumor cancers like mesothelioma and lung cancer can receive the COVID-19 vaccine during their cancer treatment plans. The coronavirus vaccine remains effective despite the other therapies affecting the patient’s immune system or cells.
Researchers observed and reported anti-COVID changes to the immune system. They also had no confirmed COVID-19 cases in the study. The one caveat is the study was performed before the Omicron variant of COVID-19 emerged. This variant was more successful in sidestepping vaccine protection.
The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer and National Comprehensive Cancer Network both encouraged cancer patients to get vaccinated even while receiving treatment. They issued statements with little data, but this recent report affirms their stance.
Why COVID-19 Affects People With Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer
Mesothelioma and lung cancer, two of the diseases caused by asbestos exposure, affect respiratory functioning. The most common type of mesothelioma, called pleural mesothelioma, is a cancer of the lining around the lung cavity. Lung cancer forms in lung tissue and on the surface of the lungs. Both cause difficulty breathing, coughing and chest pain.
COVID-19 and mesothelioma are similar, and COVID shares similarities with lung cancer as well. Coronavirus attacks respiratory functioning and causes similar effects, such as trouble breathing and a persistent cough.
The presence of both COVID-19 and either lung cancer or mesothelioma can cause significant damage to the lungs and respiratory functioning. The immune system is also stretched too thin trying to defend the body against both cancer and coronavirus infection.
This double-team attack can shorten survival times and impact quality of life. One study reported high death rates from COVID-19 among mesothelioma patients.
Coronavirus Vaccine Not Affected by Cancer Treatment
One of the questions cancer patients ask about COVID-19 is, “Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine even if I’m undergoing cancer treatment?” The fear is chemotherapy or immunotherapy will dilute the effectiveness of the vaccine, or the vaccine will impair cancer therapy.
While breakthrough cases of COVID-19 are possible, the vaccine is proven effective even when cancer therapies are active in the body.
Researchers evaluated 169 patients with solid tumors – like asbestos-causing mesothelioma, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and more – who were receiving cancer treatment at the time of their first vaccine shot. Thirty nine (23%) of them had lung cancer. Gastrointestinal cancers accounted for 33%. One type of mesothelioma called peritoneal mesothelioma, forming in the lining of the abdomen, is a gastrointestinal cancer.
All patients had at least two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Some of them received a booster shot. Most of them were also receiving chemotherapy at the time, and 37% were receiving immunotherapy. Both chemotherapy and immunotherapy are common treatment options for mesothelioma and lung cancer.
After the booster shot, 67% had an immune response to the vaccine. All of the patients had an uptick in antibodies protecting them from coronavirus. For one year after each patient was vaccinated, none of them reported having COVID-19.
Should You Get the Coronavirus Vaccine or a Booster Shot?
The JAMA Oncology study is significant science. It shows the COVID vaccine and cancer treatment do not affect one another. Patients can receive the vaccine shot while also receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy or another therapy for their cancer.
However, we still suggest talking with your primary physician or oncologist before receiving the coronavirus vaccine. They will answer any questions about how COVID-19 affects people with cancer and if your therapies or medications will impact the vaccine working to protect your body. Each patient’s cancer journey is different, so we understand if you want the opinion of your trusted cancer doctor before making any decisions.
If you have further questions about vaccines or cancer treatment, email registered nurse Karen Ritter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources & Author
- Long-term Immunogenicity of BNT162b2 Vaccine in Patients With Solid Tumors. JAMA Oncology. Retrieved from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaoncology/fullarticle/2791657. Accessed: 05/07/2022.
Sources & Author