COVID-19 advice for cancer patients

MacMillan Cancer Support has published this helpful guide for cancer patients worried about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most important thing is to follow the advice from the NHS and your healthcare team.

People with cancer may be at a higher risk of getting coronavirus (COVID-19), so following this advice is especially important. This page includes advice and information from the NHS and GOV.UK.

If you’re feeling anxious about coronavirus, we’re here to give you emotional help.

  • Social-distancing – Everyone in the UK must practice social distancing to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Please visit GOV.UK for guidance on social distancing.
  • Shielding – The government has issued shielding guidance for people who are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus because of underlying health conditions.
  • Self-isolation – If you live in a household with a possible coronavirus infection, you need to self-isolate. We have advice to help you with self-isolation.
  • The information on this page is about coronavirus and cancer. If you’re looking for other information about a particular type of cancer, test, treatment or drug, search for it in our A-Z.

Are people with cancer more vulnerable to coronavirus?

Some people with cancer and those who have received or are receiving certain treatments are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the COVID-19 infection: These are:

  • people undergoing active chemotherapy
  • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • people having intensive (radical) radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last six months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.

If you are in this category, the NHS will directly contact you with advice about the more stringent measures you should take in order to keep yourself and others safe.

These measures may include shielding.

Does cancer affect my immune system?

The immune system is the body’s defence against bacteria, viruses and other foreign organisms or harmful chemicals. The blood and the lymphatic system are part of the immune system.

Some types of cancer can affect your immune system. For example, blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukaemia.

Some cancer treatments also affect the immune system. This includes chemotherapy and immunotherapy. Radiotherapy may sometimes affect your immune system. Most people’s immune system will recover well after they have finished their treatment.

What will happen to my cancer treatment?

If you are having cancer treatment now, or you’re preparing to have it soon, it’s understandable if you’re worried about how coronavirus might affect you. Your clinical team is best placed to talk with you about the effect on your treatment and appointments.

Will there be problems accessing my cancer drugs?

There are currently no medicine shortages as a result of coronavirus The UK is well prepared to deal with any impacts of the coronavirus and we have stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.

What should I do if I have coronavirus symptoms?

The symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are:

  • a new, continuous cough and/or
  • a high temperature
  • If you have a cancer or are having a treatment that affects your immune system and you experience any signs of infection including COVID-19 symptoms, you should contact the chemotherapy care line, the Acute Oncology Service at your treating hospital or whatever number you were given by your team in the event of an urgent query. The important thing is to get urgent medical advice.

For anyone else with symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) the advice is to visit NHS 111. If you do not have access to the internet, call 111. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

If you live alone and you have symptoms of coronavirus illness (COVID-19), however mild, stay at home for 7 days from when your symptoms started.

I’m self-isolating at home and I need support. What help is there?

We know that self-isolating isn’t easy. There is support available.

MacMillan have put together some advice to help you cope with staying at home. This includes things like how to prepare, staying in touch with family and friends, and the support available for getting essential things like food and prescriptions. Read our advice to help you cope with self-isolating.

It’s important to look after your physical and mental well-being. We know this isn’t easy to do when you have to stay at home. Here is some advice to help you stay active and eat well while at home.