Study Finds COVID-19 Vaccines Using mRNA Technology Safe for People with Cancer


Eric M. Horwitz, MD, FABS, FASTRO

Patients undergoing active treatment for cancer and those with a history of cancer reported similar short-term adverse events from the mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 as people without cancer, according to a recent study from researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Eric M. Horwitz, MD, FABS, FASTRO, lead researcher, Professor, and Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University and Fox Chase Cancer Center and colleagues conducted an observational study of the short-term adverse events experienced after the two-dose Pfizer BNT162b2 vaccine.

“Patients, their families, and their medical caregivers should absolutely find these results reassuring. We surveyed almost 2,000 patients and found that cancer patients aren’t at risk for any unexpected reactions to being vaccinated compared to people without cancer,” Horwitz said.

“We now have the data and the clinical experience from thousands of cancer patients who have been vaccinated. We know that the mRNA vaccines are safe and are absolutely the most effective way to prevent hospitalization and death from COVID-19,” said Horwitz.

The results come from in-person, phone, and online surveys given to people who received two doses of the mRNA vaccine three weeks apart between February 16 and May 15, 2021. A total of 1,183 people with a history of cancer responded to both surveys, with 17.8% then currently undergoing treatment.

The most frequently reported symptom among patients with cancer and those without cancer was local pain at the injection site after dose 1 (39.3% vs. 43.9%; P=.07) and dose 2 (42.5% vs. 40.3%; P=.45). Patients with cancer receiving active treatment (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, and hormone therapy) were less likely to report pain at the injection site after dose 1 compared with those not undergoing active treatment (30.0% vs. 41.4%; P=.002).

Respondents also reported experiencing muscle pain, joint pain, fever, chills, headache, nausea, and fatigue at similar rates as those reported by people without cancer from the original clinical trials for the vaccine. Adverse effects for people undergoing immunotherapy also mirrored those in the general population.

“It’s crucial that cancer patients get vaccinated against COVID-19 because we know they can be particularly vulnerable to infection and its consequences, but some people have expressed concerns about possible reactions from the vaccines,” Horwitz said.

“Before this study, there wasn’t a lot of data specifically on the cancer population, so we made sure to collect and report this information to help both patients and physicians make informed decisions to get mRNA vaccines,” he added.

The study, “Adverse Events Reported by Patients With Cancer After Administration of a 2-Dose mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine,” was published in JNCCN—Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

 Things to know:

  • Short-term adverse effects of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine are similar among patients with or without cancer.
  • mRNA vaccines are safe for patients with cancer and the most effective way to prevent hospitalization and death from COVID-19.