You might be worried about how coronavirus will impact cancer treatment. Here are the answers to some common treatment questions.
On this page
- Questions about your cancer treatment and coronavirus
- What will happen to my cancer treatment?
- I have breast cancer. What will happen to my treatment?
- I have lung cancer. What will happen to my treatment?
- I am on chemotherapy, if I experience sweats / cough / shivering, should I call NHS 111 or the chemotherapy care line?
- Will there be problems accessing my cancer drugs?
- I’ve finished cancer treatment. Is my immune system still vulnerable to coronavirus?
- I need to home isolate. How should I prepare for cancer treatment?
- I am being asked to shield. What is shielding?
- How we are supporting people with cancer
- How we can help
We understand many people with cancer are anxious about the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on their treatment and care. Local teams throughout the NHS are working hard to plan how they can deliver cancer services as safely as possible during these exceptional circumstances.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may be concerned about whether you will get the treatment you need. You may also be worried that having treatment could put you more at risk of coronavirus. Until you hear otherwise, please continue with your current treatment and care plan as agreed with your healthcare team.
If you have a specific question about your treatment, the best thing to do is speak to your healthcare team.
NHS officials have written to hospitals that provide cancer care, asking them to continue with essential and urgent cancer treatments.
It may be necessary for a person’s treatment plan to be reviewed or possibly changed. Doctors will consider each person’s individual situation.
Cancer teams throughout the UK are doing their best to maintain services. They want to ensure that cancer diagnosis, treatment and care continues. But in order to do this during the coronavirus pandemic, there will need to be some changes. For example:
- some private hospitals are being used by the NHS to treat people with cancer
- people with cancer may need to go to a different NHS hospital to have surgery
- you may have a telephone consultation instead of one in person
- 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 decide the best thing to do. If you have any concerns or questions about your treatment, please speak to your clinical team.
Any decisions about surgery are made based on how urgent it is and the possible risk to the person concerned. Your multidisciplinary team will be involved in making any decisions about your treatment. They will consider the possible risks and benefits of surgery for you in the current situation and they will discuss these with you. Your safety is a priority in making any decisions.
For some people, surgery is the best treatment and your doctors will plan for you to have an operation. Your doctors will tell you where and when this will take place. Some people may need to be tested for coronavirus before they have their surgery.
For some people there may be another treatment that may be as effective as surgery.
In every case, your doctor will discuss what they feel is the best option for you in the current situation.
Other cancer treatments
The NHS is working to make sure that cancer treatments can continue in the best way possible. Your doctors may discuss changes in your treatment plan. They will always have your safety at the centre of any decisions they make.
For some people, continuing with treatment may be considered too risky at present. For other people, doctors may suggest that their treatment is delayed or modified. For example, they may suggest you have your treatment in a different way, such as having a drug by tablets instead of into a vein (intravenously). Your doctors will consider the risks and benefits for you and will involve you in these discussions.
The NHS is starting to set up ‘cancer hubs’ to coordinate treatment and ensure it can continue safely. For example, in London a cancer hub led by the Royal Marsden hospital, working with University College London Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust, is coordinating cancer services across the capital.Other parts of the country are planning similar models of care. Cancer hubs will support hospitals across the NHS and the private sector to work together make sure people receive the care that they need.
Common treatments for breast cancer include surgery and radiotherapy. In these videos, Richard Sincock, a Consultant Clinical Oncologist, has answered some frequently asked questions about breast cancer treatment and coronavirus.
Will my breast cancer surgery be postponed during the coronavirus outbreak?
How will radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer be affected during the coronavirus outbreak?
Are there alternative treatment options to surgery during the coronavirus outbreak?
Will my immunotherapy treatment be affected during the coronavirus outbreak?
I am on chemotherapy, if I experience sweats / cough / shivering, should I call NHS 111 or the chemotherapy care line?
If you have these symptoms while on chemotherapy, immediately contact:
- the chemotherapy care line
- the Acute Oncology Service at your treating hospital
- the number you were given by your hospital team in the event of an urgent query.
The important thing is to get urgent medical advice.
There are currently no medicine shortages as a result of COVID-19. The NHS has stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.
The government is working closely with industry, the NHS and others in the supply chain to ensure people can access the medicines they need, and precautions are in place to prevent future shortages.
There is no need for people to change the way they order prescriptions or take their medicines. Patients should always follow the advice of their doctor, nurse or pharmacist about how to take or get their medicines and medical products.
The NHS has ways of making sure people receive their medicines and medical products, even under difficult circumstances. If people order extra prescriptions, or stockpile, it will put pressure on stocks, meaning that others may not get the medicines or medical products they need.
Getting your medication while self-isolating
If you’re worried about getting your medication while staying at home, the best thing to do is contact your local council and ask about getting it delivered by your local community hub.
There are also some pharmacies where you can sign up online to have your prescription delivered:
- Boots – we've worked with Boots to remove delivery fees for people living with cancer
Phone your local pharmacy and ask if they provide this service. Or ask at your GP surgery.
Some cancer treatments 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.
Talk to your hospital team if you are worried you may be more at risk of being seriously ill if you get coronavirus (Covid-19). We have more information for people who have had cancer.
It’s really important that you still look after your health and well-being before you start cancer treatment. This is called prehabilitation. It’s about making sure you’re as healthy as you can possibly be before starting your treatment. That means doing plenty of exercise, eating well and, and looking after your mental well-being.
We know this isn’t easy to do when you have to stay at home.
We have some advice about looking after you immune system while at home. It includes information about staying active and eating well.
If your GP has written to you to advise you to ‘shield’ during this time then we urge you to do so. Shielding is to protect people who are especially vulnerable to being seriously ill if they get coronavirus.
We have information about shielding and what it involves.
How we are helping
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
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.