Breast Cancer and Shingles

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

Source: FeatureFriday


Is there a relationship? Studies indicate that there may be a correlation. Talk about one’s body multi-tasking in a most adversarial way! During a recent virtual meet up, a number of the community stated they had developed shingles. The conversation stimulated much in the way of follow up.

What we do know: Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox, also known as the varicella zoster virus. After a person has had chickenpox, the virus may remain in their body and become inactive. Years later, the virus can reactivate, causing shingles (herpes zoster).

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 30% of people in the United States will develop shingles, and about 1 million cases occur in the country each year.

Newly diagnosed cancer patients may be at increased risk for this most painful skin condition. Patients with a solid tumor, e.g., cancer in the breast had a 30% higher risk of shingles than people without cancer. “Among patients with solid tumors, the greater risk was largely associated with receiving chemotherapy treatment, rather than with the cancer itself” (Jiahui Qian, Journal of Infectious Diseases).

Can shingles cause breast cancer?

The shingles virus has never been connected to cancer, but it has the potential to be confused with rashes that are linked with cancer cells. Shingles can develop on or near the breast. Interestingly, shingles favors the torso. When presented on the breast, symptoms typically follow this progression:

  • Very sensitive skin, often accompanied by pain or numbness

  • Within a week a red rash develops

  • With this rash blisters develop

  • Blisters break to form scabs

  • After several weeks the blisters heal

  • Unfortunately nerve pain can continue for up to one year

What about a shingles vaccine?

Vaccines are available, but due to a lack of data, these vaccines are not yet recommended for use in the cancer patient group. Also in development is a shingles vaccine that uses an inactivated form of the virus.

These advances suggest that vaccines show promise as a way to prevent shingles and its complications in cancer patients. As always, we recommend those diagnosed with breast cancer consult your oncologist at the first sign of shingles.