Coronavirus guidance if you have cancer

The latest guidance about coronavirus

Updated Tuesday 11 May 2021

Restrictions are beginning to ease around the UK. However, it is important that you continue to follow the latest government advice for where you live in the UK.

Visit government websites for guidance on what you can and cannot do in:

As the vaccination programme continues to roll out, we understand that people with cancer and their friends and family will have a lot of questions. We have more information about different coronavirus vaccines.

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.

Information about the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine

We know there has been a lot of information in the media about coronavirus vaccines. We understand that you will have a lot of questions, including how and when people with cancer will be able to have a coronavirus vaccine. We have answered some of the most common questions we've been asked about the vaccine here.

You can also visit the NHS website for the latest information on coronavirus vaccines.

Talk to an expert now

If something is worrying you and you need to talk, we're here to listen. From questions about coronavirus, to cancer treatment, to financial advice, we're here for you.

To speak to our experts, you can:

Find out more about the Macmillan teams that are here to support you.

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.

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 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.

What if I'm not in a vulnerable group?

You need to follow the government guidelines and general advice for everyone. This can vary in the different countries of the UK. It can also vary in different parts of the country depending on the number of cases of COVID-19 in that area.

Everyone in the UK must continue to practice social distancing to avoid close contact with other people. People should practice good hand hygiene and wear a face mask when necessary. This can help stop the spread of coronavirus. Please visit government websites for guidance on social distancing and what you can and cannot do in the country where you live.

Look at your local authority website for what is happening in your area.

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.

Do I need to self-isolate?

You should self-isolate (stay at home all the time) for 10 days if you live alone and have symptoms even if the symptoms are mild. You will usually need to self-isolate for 14 days if:

  • someone you live with or someone in your support bubble has symptoms or has tested positive
  • you have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace

We have more information about self-isolation.

Should I be tested for coronavirus?

Testing for coronavirus involves using a long cotton bud to take a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat.

You can get a free NHS test if you have symptoms of coronavirus. 

In England, you need to be tested in the first 8 days of having symptoms. On days 1 to 7 you can be tested at a test site or at home. On day 8, you need to be tested at a test site as it is too late for a home test.

In Scotland and Wales, you need to be tested in the first 5 days of having symptoms. On days 1- 4 you can be tested at a test site or at home. On day 5 you need to be tested at a site. 
You may need to get tested if you are due to have surgery or a medical procedure. Your hospital will arrange this for you.  

Read more about arranging a test on the government website.

You can read more and apply for a test in:

How will my cancer treatment be affected?

Your hospital team will talk with you about what will happen with your treatment and hospital appointments.

Hospital staff and cancer teams have worked hard to make sure people can continue their treatment in the safest way possible. Some people may have had a delay in their treatment while safety measures are put in place. Other people may be given their treatment in a different way.

You may have some of your hospital appointments by phone or by video consultation. Your hospital team will tell you more.

We have more information about coronavirus and cancer treatment.

Appointments by phone or video consultation

You may have some of your appointments by phone or by video consultation. Whether it's a phone call with your GP or a video consultation with a specialist, we have some tips to help you prepare for these kinds of appointments.

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.

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.

Resources from other organisations

Coronavirus resources in accessible formats

We have listed some organisations and websites that have accessible coronavirus information in other formats and languages. This includes links to easy read booklets and British Sign Language (BSL) content. These resources are not specifically for people living with cancer but you may find them helpful.

You can also find our cancer-specific information in a range of different formats.

Coronavirus resources for communities

We have listed some websites that provide information on how coronavirus has impacted certain communities.

How we are supporting people with cancer

Coronavirus is having a huge impact on people living with cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support are doing the best we can to support people during this time. We have:

  • introduced new support services, delivered over the phone or online
  • set up our new Telephone Buddies service where you can sign up for someone to talk to
  • maintained our Information and Support section on the website with up to date information about all aspects of living with cancer and how to access support
  • set up a virtual appointment system with our No7 Boots Macmillan Beauty Advisors who can give make-up and skincare advice to help with the side effects of cancer treatment. 
  • launched SafeFit. This is a free remote service that connects you with a cancer exercise specialist to help you stay fit and healthy.

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