Cancer Survivors: Pneumococcal Vaccine Target Population

Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP
Published Online: Thursday, February 16, 2012
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Cancer survivors, who too often adopt a “lightning-doesn’t-strike-twice” attitude, should be encouraged to take preventive measures, including receiving the pneumococcal vaccination.

Cancer survivors receive the pneumococcal vaccination at disturbingly low rates, recently released research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates. As such, they represent a population that should be targeted to receive the vaccination.

Cancer survivors often adopt a “lightning-doesn’t-strike-twice” attitude that can increase their risk of developing a recurrent or new primary cancer. The new findings indicate that these survivors need to be reminded to protect themselves against other diseases as well.

To investigate the health behaviors of adult cancer survivors, a team of CDC researchers used the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System to assemble data concerning their use of preventive health services and health insurance status. The researchers determined that approximately 7.2% of American adults have received a previous cancer diagnosis, excluding nonmelanoma skin cancer. Almost 80% of these cancer survivors were older than 50. Cigarette smoking (15.1%), obesity (27.5%), and sedentary lifestyles (31.5%) were common among them and just under 7% of the cancer survivors where uninsured.

All the cancer survivors included in the analysis were in groups recommended to receive the annual flu vaccine, and most were candidates for the pneumococcal vaccination. The researchers found, however, that just 48.3% had ever received the pneumococcal vaccination, and 57.8% had received the influenza vaccine within the preceding 12 months.

Pharmacists should remind cancer survivors of the need to take proper preventive measures. With cancer survival rates on the rise and the majority of survivors elderly, patients need to remember that they have the potential to enjoy many more years of life but that they are not automatically immune from the ravages of disease. For these patients, getting the pneumococcal vaccination is especially important.

Ms. Wick is a visiting professor at the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy and a freelance writer from Virginia.

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