Often this question is left unanswered: What is the connection between cancer and shingles? Yes, there exists a link between the two. Shingles develop when the body’s immune system is weakened, and immune functions are often affected by cancer treatments.
People with the specific form of cancer are at the higher risk of developing shingles because the cancer cells directly affect the functioning of the immune system. Shingles can develop prior to the diagnosis of cancer, which means that shingles act as a diagnostic symptom. That is why, it becomes vital to know the underlying cause of developing this skin problem in every patient. Later people tend to discover that they have an undiagnosed form of cancer that may have remained undetected for a considerable amount of time had they not developed shingles.
What is meant by shingles?
Shingle is an infection caused by a virus called varicella-zoster or herpes zoster. It is the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you recover from chickenpox, the virus can enter your nervous system and lie dormant for years, producing no symptoms. But if your immune function is reduced, it may reactivate and travel along nerve pathways to your skin — producing shingles.
Shingles appear most frequently as a rash on one side of the body. It can last for several weeks and often is very painful. The pain may start as a tingling, which then progresses to burning and stinging sensations. Although you can’t ‘catch’ shingles, you can catch chickenpox from someone who has shingles.
Immunosuppression and Cancer – The Leading Cause
Medicines used in cancer chemotherapy and steroid tablets increase the risk of shingles by weakening the immune system. Cancer patients experience reduced immune function or immunosuppression due to chemotherapy, psychological stress, or the physical trauma of surgery or radiotherapy.
Basically, hematological cancers, such as myeloma, lymphoma and leukemia’s and CNS cancer forms, increase the risk of shingles by a large amount. That is why, it is recommended to undergo zoster vaccination.
What can be done?
For those at higher risk of developing shingles, it is advisable to get vaccinated against herpes zoster. If you are aware of the increased risk at an early stage, it is recommended to undergo early anti-viral therapy. Generally, little attention is paid to rebuilding the immune system after cancer and its treatment. But it is advisable to follow up to regain a robust immune system to prevent infections like shingles and to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
Natural ways to boost the Immune System
Through proper nutrition and holistic lifestyle, one can enhance and boost the immune system. Some of the ways to boost your immune system are:
- Increase the adequate intake of vitamins and minerals associated with the immune system such as vitamins A, and D, and selenium
- Look for the ways and therapies for stress management
- Support the gut microbiota with probiotics, prebiotics and fermented/high fiber foods
- Use specific immune and anti-viral supplements
- Reduce toxins and allergens in your diet
Immune system strengthening is very vital for all patients suffering from any type of cancer. Get in touch with your healthcare practitioner and learn what is suitable for you to enhance and boost your immune system.