Cancer patients show a higher risk of shingles, research finds

According to a new research, people diagnosed with cancer, specifically blood cancers, and those treated with chemotherapy have an increased risk of developing shingles. The recent study was published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

This large potential study expands on former research. Researchers examined the risk of shingles before and after a new cancer diagnosis. They also observed it across a range of cancer types among nearly 240,000 adults in Australia from 2006 to 2015. The discoveries may help to prevent the painful skin condition in cancer patients through the use of new vaccines.

Shingles also called as herpes zoster. It is caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It is the same virus which causes chickenpox. The virus usually remains dormant in the body but when it reactivates later in life it causes shingles. Varicella-zoster mostly reactivates in the elderly or individuals with weakened immune systems, including cancer patients.

Studies propose that around 25 percent of people suffer from shingles at some stage in their lives. It usually starts with an itching or burning pain in one location on one side of the body. That is followed by a rash of fluid-filled blisters.

Approximately one-third individuals in the U.S. will develop shingles. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an estimated 1 million cases of this disease in the country each year.

Outcomes of the study

In this study, researchers discovered that the diagnosis of any kind of cancer was associated with about a 40 percent increase in risk for developing shingles than those without cancer. Patients with a hematological, or blood-related, cancer diagnosis had a more than three-fold greater risk of developing it than individuals with no cancer.

People with a diagnosis of cancer related to a solid tumor, like cancer located in the breast, prostate, lung, or other organs, had a 30 percent greater chance of shingles compared to those without cancer.

The new study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases also observed that among patients with blood cancers, the greater risk for shingles was present in the two years before their cancer diagnosis, according to the study’s first author, Jiahui Qian, MPH, of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

However, in patients with solid tumors, the greater risk of shingles appeared to be related with receiving chemotherapy after their diagnosis, instead of with cancer itself. In observing the higher risk of shingles in cancer patients, a few preceding studies have separated the risk for shingles linked to a patient’s cancer from the risk related to chemotherapy.

Vaccines for shingles

“These outcomes have important effects in the development of zoster vaccines,” wrote Kosuke Kawai. He is an ScD, of Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and Barbara P. Yawn, MD, MsC, of the University of Minnesota.

A new vaccine for shingles was approved for use in the U.S. in 2017. It does not use a live virus. And is expected to be safe in individuals with compromised immune systems, like those on chemotherapy. But the vaccine is not yet suggested for these people in the U.S. As public health officials expect more information on the use of the vaccine in such patients.

Another new vaccine for shingles which uses an inactivated virus is also in development. These developments propose that vaccination holds great promise as an approach for the prevention of shingles. And its problems in cancer patients, both commentary and study authors stated.

Areeba Hussain

Areeba is an independent medical and healthcare writer. For the last three years, she is writing for Tophealthjournal. Her prime areas of interest are diseases, medicine, treatments, and alternative therapies. Twitter @Areeba94789300

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