The connection between shingles and breast cancer and what you should know

May 12, 2022

In terms of breast cancer, there’s so much information about it circulating out there. Most of the facts out there are: there is more than one stage of breast cancer, breast cancer can go away, it can run in the family, it mostly affects women but men can get breast cancer and if diagnosed with breast cancer, there are so many ways to go about treatment and removal of the tumor and cells that cause it. Let’s not forget about the yearly walks that people create to support and raise money for breast cancer research, the different organizations all over the country that help you find resources if you were to be diagnosed with any stage of breast cancer and so much more. All in all, it’s great to know that with such a common disease, there are so many resources out there for you to do your research because when it comes to breast cancer, there is plenty of information that needs more light shed on it, like the connection between shingles and breast cancer.

What is shingles?

Shingles is a type of viral infection that causes painful rashes all over the body. Shingles is caused by the varicella- zoster virus. This virus is the same one that causes chickenpox. If you’ve ever had chickenpox, then unfortunately the varicella-zoster virus is still in your body.

Though it lies inactive in your nerve tissue near your spinal cord and brain, it can reactivate years later and come back as shingles. Usually, shingles will show wrapped around your torso as a single stripe of blisters.

The symptoms are pain, numbness and tingling, burning sensations, a red rash, itching and blisters filled with fluid. Sometimes people experience nausea, fever, light sensitivity and headaches when dealing with shingles. Though shingles isn’t fatal, it is very painful to experience.

What is the connection between shingles and breast cancer?

Though the shingles virus has no history of causing breast cancer, there are connections between the two.

First, it’s easy to assume that your symptoms from shingles might be breast cancer because of how and where shingles appear on the body. Shingles can develop on or near the breast and the rashes can be confused with cancer cells.

The second link to shingles and breast cancer is that if you have breast cancer, you have a higher chance of developing shingles. Newly diagnosed cancer patients are at a higher risk of developing shingles.

How likely are your to develop shingles living with metastatic breast cancer?

When it comes to shingles and breast cancer, if you were diagnosed with a tumor- related cancer such as breast cancer, then you have a 40 percent increase in the risk of developing shingles compared to someone who does not have cancer.

The reason someone with breast cancer might develop shingles faster than someone without cancer actually has nothing to do with the cancer itself, it’s due to the chemotherapy used to treat the cancer. However, if you are living with metastatic breast cancer, your chances of developing shingles may be lower, and here’s why.

When it comes to the treatment of metastatic breast cancer, there is more than one type of treatment to get rid of it.

The first is hormonal therapy. When diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, doctors usually start the patient off with hormonal and targeted therapy.

If the first type of hormonal and targeted therapy does not work, doctors will try other types of this treatment.

If none of the hormonal and targeted therapy treatments work to kill the cancer cells, doctors will then call for chemotherapy. So if you are living with metastatic breast cancer and hormonal and targeted therapy works for you, your chances of developing shingles are lower than other cancer patients who rely more on chemotherapy.

Is there a way to prevent shingles?

The only real way to prevent shingles is through the shingles vaccination. There aren’t any lifestyle changes that you can do to prevent shingles, especially if you are someone with a weakened immune system.

Though shingles is mostly seen in people 50 and older, anyone can develop shingles but again some people are at a higher risk of developing it.

If you are someone living with stage 4 breast cancer and in the midst or have already undergone treatment, talk to your doctor about how the shingles vaccine may benefit you. Living with breast cancer is already a lot so let’s not let shingles make it worse.

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