If you have had cancer in the past

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)

If you have had cancer in the past, you may be worried about your risk of coronavirus. Your risk will depend on:

  • the type of cancer you have had
  • the type of treatment you have had
  • how long ago you finished treatment
  • your general health.  

Some people with some types of cancer are at increased risk of being seriously ill if they get coronavirus. If you are in this group of people, you will have a letter or text from your hospital team or your GP telling you this and advising you to follow government ‘shielding’ guidelines. This is to protect you from getting coronavirus.

If you think you are in this group of people but you have not received a letter, contact your GP or hospital team. 

Cancer type and coronavirus risk

The NHS says that anyone who has a cancer of the blood or bone marrow, such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who is at any stage of treatment, is at increased risk of becoming seriously ill if they get coronavirus. This is because blood cancers affect the immune system.

People with a blood cancer are ‘extremely vulnerable’ and they should be following the government's advice about ‘shielding’. You are in this group if you:

  • have been diagnosed with a blood cancer but are not having treatment
  • are currently having treatment
  • have had treatment and are in remission
  • have had your spleen removed.

If it is over 2 years since you completed your treatment for a high-grade lymphoma, and you remain well, you may want to talk to your hospital team about your individual risk.

If you have had a cancer that is not a blood cancer, for example breast cancer or bowel cancer,  and your immune system has recovered from treatment, then you are not thought to be at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if you get coronavirus.

If you have been treated for any type of cancer in the past and you are worried about your risk, you should talk to your GP or your cancer team.

Your immune system after cancer treatment

Most people with cancer will recover well from treatment. While they may have some lasting effects of treatment, their immune system will usually recover in a few months. People in this situation will not be more at risk of being seriously unwell if they get coronavirus (COVID-19).   

Talk to your hospital team if you are worried you may be more at risk of being seriously ill if you get coronavirus.

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

Your general health

If you have any of the other conditions that mean you are extremely vulnerable, you need to follow government guidelines for shielding. This includes:    

  • people with severe lung conditions including cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • people with rare diseases and other conditions that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as severe combined immune deficiency SCID and homozygous sickle cell)
  • people on immunosuppressive therapies that will significantly increase risk of infection
  • women who are pregnant with significant heart disease

Everyone needs to follow government advice for staying at home to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. They must also follow advice to self-isolate if they or anyone in their household develops symptoms. 

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)

Self-isolation if you have had cancer

You do not need to self-isolate just because you have had cancer in the past. If you or a member of your household develops symptoms of coronavirus, then you need to follow the government guidelines for self-isolating.

We have advice to help you cope with self-isolating.

If you have a type of cancer or other illness that means you are extremely vulnerable to being seriously ill with coronavirus, then you need to follow the guidelines for shielding. You should have a letter explaining if you are in this group of people.


How we are supporting people with cancer

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

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.