By the way, doctor: Could flu shots prevent lung cancer?

Q. Do you think flu shots might also prevent lung cancer?

A. First, some basics. Flu results when the in-fluenza virus infects the respiratory system — the throat, the bronchi (breathing tubes) and, often, the lungs. When the virus gets into the lungs, it's called pneumonia. Pneumonia can be caused by the influenza virus alone, or by bac-teria that overcome defenses weakened by the virus. Pneumonia puts a strain on the entire body, because the lungs can't properly replenish the blood with oxygen or remove its waste products when they're battling a viral and bacterial infection. The heart muscle is especially dependent on a full supply of oxygen, so flu shots, by preventing flu and pneumonia, may indirectly help prevent heart attacks and heart failure.

Lung cancer is caused by mutations in the DNA of cells lining the breathing tubes. Tobacco smoke, of course, is number one among substances producing these mutations. As far as we know, the flu virus doesn't alter DNA, so there is no reason to believe that flu shots would prevent lung cancer.

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