Cancer and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

If you have cancer, it's understandable you might be worried about coronavirus. Here is the latest guidance.

Cancer and coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus is a viral infection that affects the lungs. Anyone who has a weakened immune system is more at risk of being seriously ill if they get coronavirus (COVID-19).  Some people with cancer may be at a higher risk of getting coronavirus (COVID-19). It is important to follow the advice from the NHS and your healthcare team. 

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

This page includes advice and information from the NHS and GOV.UK. Advice may vary in different countries of the UK. 

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.

Symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)

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

  • people having chemotherapy
  • people having immunotherapy or 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.

Being in one of these categories is known as being clinically extremely vulnerable. If this affects you, the NHS will have contacted you. You may have been advised to follow shielding measures to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19. Shielding was paused in the summer when the rate of infection had lowered, but with levels currently rising, it is important to check the latest advice regularly. We have updated guidance about shielding.

If you live in an area where local restrictions apply then your healthcare team or your local authority can advise you about whether you need to resume shielding.

If you’re not sure whether you are in one of these groups, contact your healthcare team.

People living with cancer

Do I need to do anything differently as someone who is being treated / in remission from cancer / living with a chronic cancer?

The Government is advising that people with cancer should be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.  They are:

  1. Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
  2. Avoid non-essential use of public transport, varying your travel times to avoid rush hour, when possible.
  3. Work from home, where possible. Your employer should support you to do this. Please refer to employer guidance for more information.
  4. Avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs.
  5. Avoid gatherings with friends and family. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
  6. Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.

The detailed advice about social distancing can be found here.

Some people with cancer are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the COVID-19 infection:

  • people having chemotherapy, or who have received chemotherapy in the last three months;
  • 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. For now, you should rigorously follow the social distancing advice in full.

What will happen to my cancer treatment?

For example:

  • Will it be postponed?
  • Should I still go to hospital appointments?
  • How will my hospital decide whether I am a priority for treatment? Will there be national rules?
  • Should I start chemotherapy treatment (particularly if it is a 2nd/3rd line for "mop up") or postpone?
  • If I get the virus and recover, will this affect my cancer treatment and outlook?

Your clinician may want to review your treatment plans, including whether the risks involved in any treatment have changed. In some cases, this may lead to a discussion about a revised or modified treatment plan. This is because the risks and benefits of certain treatments may be different in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) risk.

Many hospitals have started to use more telephone consultations as a way of helping people to avoid long waits in clinics and for treatment. You may be called to arrange your treatments in this way, and planned treatments may need to be moved to help with running a smooth service.

Your clinical team are best placed to talk with you about the effect on your treatment and appointments.  They will work with you to determine the best course of action in each individual situation.  If you have any concerns or questions about your treatment, please speak to your clinical team.

I am on chemotherapy, if I experience sweats / cough / shivering, should I call NHS 111 or the chemotherapy care line?

The advice in this situation is to immediately 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.

Will there be problems accessing my cancer drugs?

There are currently no cancer medicine shortages as a result of coronavirus. The UK has stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.

We have more information about coronavirus and cancer drugs, including ways to get prescriptions if you’re isolating.

Home isolation

There are currently no cancer medicine shortages as a result of coronavirus. The UK has stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.

We have more information about coronavirus and cancer drugs, including ways to get prescriptions if you’re isolating.

If I need to self-isolate for more than seven days, what will happen in relation to treatment that has to be done weekly?

Your clinical team are best placed to talk with you about the effect on your treatment and appointments.  They will work with you to determine the best course of action in each individual situation.

There is extended guidance on staying at home if you or someone in your household think you have coronavirus.

Advice for when staying at home

Staying at home will help control the spread of the virus to friends, the wider community, and particularly the most vulnerable. The following may make it easier:

  • Plan ahead and think about what you will need in order to be able to stay at home for the full 7 or 14 days.
  • Think about and plan how you can get food and other supplies such as medications that you will need during this period.
  • Ask friends, family or your employer if they can drop off anything you need.
  • If you order supplies online, make sure these are left outside your home for you to collect.
  • Keep in touch with friends, family and work colleagues over the phone or through social media.
  • Think about things you can do during your time at home. People who have successfully completed a period of staying at home have kept themselves busy with activities such as cooking, reading, online learning and watching films.
  • Plan in advance what you will do if someone in your household were to feel much worse, such as have difficulties breathing.
  • Find some exercises you can do at home - If you go out to exercise you will need to keep a safe distance (two metres) from other people.
  • If you are an employee and unable to work due to coronavirus, please refer to this guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions to find out about the support that is available to you.
  • Staying at home for a prolonged period can be difficult, frustrating and lonely for some people and that you or other household members may feel low. It can be particularly challenging if you don’t have much space or access to a garden.
  • It’s important to remember to take care of your mind as well as your body and to get support if you need it. Stay in touch with family and friends over the phone or on social media. There are also sources of support and information that can help, such as the Every Mind Matters website.

Caring for people with cancer

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
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

If you have 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 COVID-19, follow the advice of the NHS.

If you live in:

  • England: Visit NHS 111. If you do not have access to the internet, call 111.
  • Scotland: Visit NHS Inform Scotland. If you do not have access to the internet, call 111
  • Wales: Visit NHS 111 Wales. If you do not have access to the internet, call 111
  • Northern Ireland: Visit the Public Health Agency website. Or call 111 or your GP or the out of hours GP. 

Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital. If you or someone else is seriously unwell, ring 999 and tell them you are concerned about COVID-19.

I have been exposed to the virus and am a carer for someone with cancer. What should I do? Who will look after the person I care for if I am unable to?

The Government is currently advising that if you have symptoms and you live with a vulnerable person, you should try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

If you provide essential care (such as help with washing, dressing, or preparing meals), you may find this guidance on Home care provision useful.

It is also a good idea to think about what happens if you become unwell. If you need help with care but you’re not sure who to contact, or if you do not have family or friends who can help, you can contact your local council who should be able to help you. Carers UK have also produced advice for those currently caring for others.