The latest coronavirus guidance for people living with cancer

Latest update - Monday 1st June

The government has updated its guidance for people in England who are shielding. We are currently updating our guidance to reflect these changes. In the meantime, please visit GOV.UK to read what has changed. There is different guidance about shielding for people living in ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

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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). 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.

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.

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 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.

If you are in these categories, 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 immunotherapy and chemotherapy treatment. Radiotherapy may sometimes affect your immune system. Most people’s immune system will recover well after they have finished their treatment.

We have information about looking after your immune system while at home.

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 hospital team can talk with you about the effect on your treatment and hospital appointments.

We have more information about coronavirus and cancer treatment.

Will there be problems accessing my cancer drugs?

There are currently no cancer medicine shortages as a result of coronavirus. And 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.

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 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. 

Should I be tested for coronavirus?

If you have cancer or have had it in the past you may wonder if you should be tested for coronavirus.

The test involves using a long cotton bud to take a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat.

You can ask for a test only if you have symptoms of coronavirus. You need to have the test in the first 5 days of having the symptoms. It’s best to ask for a test in the first 3 days just in case it takes time to arrange. The test is only suitable for people over 5 years old. You can ask for a test for yourself or for someone who lives with you.

There is a very high demand for tests. People in hospital and essential workers such as NHS staff and social care staff are being prioritised for tests. You can apply for a test through the NHS website. There is more information about testing in:

England – information about who can be tested and testing if you are an essential worker

Scotland – information about who can be tested, where to get a test and how to arrange a test

Wales – information about testing in Wales and how to apply for a test

Northern Ireland – information about testing for members of the public and key workers.

If you have any questions about a test you’ve booked or are having difficulty booking a test, you can contact the customer contact centre from 7am to 11pm:

England and Wales – call 119 (free from mobiles and landlines)

Scotland and Northern Ireland – call 0300 303 2713 (charged at standard network rate)

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.

We have put together some advice to help you cope with staying at home. This includes things like how to prepare for staying at home, 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.

Financial support and coronavirus

We know this is a worrying time for you and your family members, emotionally and financially.

We have information about financial support and coronavirus that might help you.

How we are supporting people with cancer

Coronavirus is having a huge impact on people living with cancer. From introducing new support services, delivered over the phone or online, to our nurses being redeployed to the areas of greatest need within the NHS, we are doing all we can to meet the growing demand on our services.

  • To keep everyone safe, we have stopped all our face-to-face volunteering. But if you need someone to talk to, you can sign up for our new Telephone Buddies service.
  • We can't run our Mobile Information and Support buses at the moment, so we've created a virtual version. You can now email our Mobile Information and Support staff. They can provide information about local services and support.
  • You can now make a virtual appointment with our No7 Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors. They can give make-up and skincare advice to help you manage visible side effects of cancer treatment.
  • To help you stay fit and healthy during the coronavirus crisis, we've launched SafeFit. This is a free remote service that connects you with a cancer exercise specialist.

How you can help

Cancer nurses need urgent support

We need to be there for people living with cancer. But we can't do it alone. Your support has never mattered more. Find out more about how we're supporting people during the coronavirus outbreak, and how you can help us be there.

Read more about how we are supporting people with cancer

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
0808 808 00 00
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
7 days a week, 8am - 8pm
Online Community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.