OncoLink

Is there a correlation between cancer and shingles?

Is there a correlation between cancer and shingles?

Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"
My mother and father died of cancer and both developed shingles within 6 to 9 months of dying. My sister has been diagnosed with uterine cancer. She just found out she has shingles. Is there a correlation between cancer and shingles? 

Answer

Stephen C. Rubin, MD, Professor and Chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, University of Pennsylvania Health System, responds:

Shingles is caused by a re-activation of the virus that causes chicken pox, which may lie dormant in the body for many years. It can be reactivated by a variety of factors, including stress and immune suppression, both of which may occur in cancer patients. It has been well documented that patients with cancer have a higher chance of developing shingles. However, it does not at all predict how a patient will respond to the cancer treatment. Although your parents had shingles shortly before their deaths, this does not mean your sister will die of cancer.