Shingles or herpes zoster is a viral infection that causes a painful rash; it is caused by the varicella-zoster virus the same virus that causes chickenpox. So people who had chickenpox may develop shingles, and also cancer patients have a higher risk of getting shingles as a new study revealed.
The study was done in Australia and was published this month in the Journal of Infectious Diseases revealed that cancer patients have a 40% higher risk of getting shingles than noncancer patients. The risk was higher in patients with blood-related or hematological cancers compared to patients with solid tumors.
"These findings have important implications in view of recent advances in the development of zoster vaccines," Kosuke Kawai, a researcher at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said in a news release.
Herpes zoster risk factors include increasing age and immunosuppression or any factor that can affect immunity; this is probably why cancer patients have a high risk of getting herpes zoster due to the effects of cancer on the body’s immune system or the effects of treatments that cancer patients receive that compromise immunity.
The study analyzed data of 240,000 adults with over eight years of follow up; it revealed that the risk was the highest in the first year following diagnosis, decreasing after for both types of cancer. For patients with solid cancers, the zoster risk became similar to people without cancer within three years after diagnosis. However, it stayed elevated in patients with hematological cancers.
Another critical observation is that among patients with solid cancers the zoster risk was higher among those receiving chemotherapy compared to those who are not receiving chemotherapy, and among patients with hematological cancers, there was an increased zoster risk two years before their cancer diagnosis.
The strong points in this study are the large sample size, long follow up period and that it included people with and without cancer and with different types of cancers which allowed for a better comparison.
The researchers of the study suggest that as cancer patients are more immunocompromised especially those receiving chemotherapy, this could mean that they will suffer from more complications of zoster.
There has been a live attenuated herpes zoster vaccine available worldwide, but it is not indicated for immunocompromised patients as cancer patients. However, if a new recombinant or a non-live vaccine for herpes zoster has been developed that is proven to be safe in immunocompromised patients, it could be a suitable preventive method for cancer patients especially those receiving chemotherapy as mentioned in the study.
Watch the video below to learn more about shingles, its complications, and treatment.