Cancer treatment and coronavirus
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
- Coronavirus vaccines and cancer treatment
- Talk to an expert now
- What will happen to my cancer treatment?
- When you are having 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?
- How we are supporting people with cancer
- How we can help
The latest guidance about coronavirus
The latest information about coronavirus restrictions (Friday 8 January)
The UK government has announced new restrictions to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. This includes a full lockdown across England, mainland Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is important that people continue to follow the latest government advice and restrictions for where you live in the UK.
Visit government websites for guidance on what you can and cannot do in:
The latest information about shielding
People who are extremely vulnerable have been advised to follow shielding guidance. It is important to stay up to date with the advice for your area.
The latest information about the vaccine
We know there has been a lot of information in the media about different coronavirus vaccines. We understand that people with cancer and their friends and family will have a lot of questions. We answer some of the most common questions.
Many people with cancer are anxious about the impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) on their treatment and care. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, you may be concerned about getting the treatment you need. You may also be worried that having treatment could put you more at risk of coronavirus.
If you are having cancer treatment, please continue with your treatment and care plan as agreed with your healthcare team. If you have a specific question about your treatment, you can ask your team.
You may be worried about cancer or waiting for a referral for investigations. Talk to your GP about any symptoms or worries you have.
Local teams throughout the NHS are working hard to maintain delivery of cancer services as safely as possible.
Macmillan aims to work in partnership with the NHS and also deliver direct support. This includes:
Can I have the coronavirus vaccine if I am having cancer treatment?
Although the Covid vaccines are new, healthcare professionals have a lot of experience of giving other vaccines to people living with cancer. Public health experts and cancer specialists have agreed that people living with cancer should receive the vaccine.
If you're having chemotherapy
Some cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, can lower normal immunity. This can be a problem with certain types of vaccines called ‘live’ vaccines. Covid vaccines are not ‘live’ vaccines. They can be given before, during or after cancer treatment.
It is possible that the vaccines may be slightly less effective for people having chemotherapy or other cancer treatments. But it is still expected that the vaccine will give some useful protection against the virus.
Other cancer treatments
The Covid vaccines can be given to people who are having hormonal therapies as part of their treatment for example people with breast or prostate cancer.
Experts on cancer immunotherapy have recommended that people on immunotherapy should receive the Covid vaccines. They can also be given to people who are receiving or who have received targeted therapies (including antibody treatments) as part of their therapy.
If you have had a stem-cell transplant your healthcare team can talk to you about the best time for you to have the vaccine.
You may find it helpful to talk to your cancer healthcare team who can answer any questions you might have about getting vaccinated.
More information about coronavirus vaccines
We understand you may have more questions about the different coronavirus vaccines. Here is further information and guidance about the coronavirus vaccines.
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:
At the start of the pandemic, NHS officials advised hospitals that provide cancer care to continue with essential and urgent cancer treatments. Cancer teams throughout the UK are continuing to do their best to maintain services.
It is now hoped that cancer services are getting back on track to ensure that diagnosis, treatment and care continues for everyone who needs it.
Doctors will continue to consider each person’s individual situation. Your healthcare team will talk with you about your treatment and appointments. If you have any concerns or questions about your treatment, please speak to your team.
You may notice some changes when you go to the hospital or clinic:
- Cancer hubs – In some areas, cancer hubs have been set up to coordinate cancer treatment and make sure treatment continues safely during the pandemic. Only people with cancer will be treated in these hubs.
- Going to a different hospital – some people with cancer may have to go to a different NHS hospital than they usually attend or to a private hospital being used by the NHS.
- Designated areas in hospitals for cancer patients – People whose immune systems are compromised will be seen in a separate area from other patients. People will get their cancer treatment in a room or area where social distancing can be managed, they can be observed and their treatments can be given safely.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) – all staff will wear PPE, usually an apron, gloves and surgical mask.
- People coming in as outpatients will be asked if they have any coronavirus symptoms. They will have to wear a mask during their time at the hospital or clinic.
- Coronavirus testing – Patients may be tested for coronavirus if they are coming to hospital for cancer treatment. They may also be asked to self-isolate before treatment. It is important to follow the advice given by your healthcare team. Hospital staff, even if they have no symptoms, are being tested more frequently.
The NHS is working to make sure that cancer treatments can continue in the best way possible. Your doctor will discuss what they think is the best option for you in the current situation.
Any decisions are based on how urgently treatment is needed and any possible risks. Your healthcare team will involve you in making decisions about your treatment. They will consider the possible risks and benefits for you in the current situation and they will discuss these with you. Your safety is a priority in making any decisions.
If surgery is the best treatment, your doctors will plan for you to have an operation. They will tell you where and when this will take place. For some people, it may be safe to delay surgery. For other people, your doctor may suggest a different cancer treatment such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy or hormonal therapy.
In recent months, for some people continuing with treatment may have been considered too risky. For others, doctors may have suggested that their treatment was delayed or modified. For example, having treatment in a different way, such as tablets to take at home instead of treatment into a vein (intravenously). Your doctors will continue to consider the risks and benefits for you and will involve you in these discussions about your treatment as cancer services resume.
Common treatments for breast cancer include surgery and radiotherapy. In these videos, Dr Richard Simcock, 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?
Treatment for lung cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. In these videos, Dr Clive Peedell, a Consultant Clinical Oncologist and Dr Ernie Marshall, a Consultant Medical Oncologist, answer some frequently asked questions about lung cancer treatment and coronavirus.
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 or any other cancer treatment, 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.
In recent months people have been able to access the medicines they need, and precautions are in place to prevent future shortages.
There is no need for you to change the way you order prescriptions or take your medicines. Always follow the advice of your doctor, nurse or pharmacist about how to take or get your medicines and medical products.
Getting your medication while self-isolating
If you're worried about getting your medication while staying at home, the best thing to do is phone your GP or local pharmacy and ask about having your prescription delivered to your home.
There are also some pharmacies where you can sign up online to have your prescription delivered:
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 look after your health and well-being before you start cancer treatment. This is called prehabilitation. This means making sure you are as healthy as possible before starting your treatment. You can do this by being physically active, 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.
How we are helping
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
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.