Patient information

Advice on coronavirus for people with cancer

On this blog page you will find information and advice on the corona virus for people with cancer, including: symptoms, your risk if you have pancreatic cancer and what you can do.

Updated 01/06/2020

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For more information and answers to frequently asked questions about coronavirus. You can also contact healthinfo@panact.org if you have any specific questions, or call us on 0303 040 1770.

Cancer treatment and coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting all areas of the NHS and as the outbreak continues, you may be worried about the impact on cancer diagnosis and treatment. Here's what we know so far about how cancer treatment is being affected and questions for your doctor.

About coronavirus

Coronavirus is a group of viruses that includes cold, flu and more serious respiratory illnesses such as SARS. This disease is a new coronavirus, never seen before in humans called COVID-19.

Because this type of coronavirus has not been seen before, we currently lack vaccinations to prevent the disease or a cure. At present, we can only give treatments to manage the symptoms of the disease. Coronavirus has so far mainly affected adults and is more dangerous for older people, those with long term conditions or a compromised immune system.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of coronavirus include loss of taste and smell, a fever (raised temperature), cough and shortness of breath. However, many people experience a range of symptoms. For most people the virus is mild, however, some people will develop complications such as pneumonia and a small number of people will become seriously ill.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus it is important to stay at home for seven days if you live alone or 14 if you live with anyone else. They will also need to self isolate at home for 14 days.

You are advised to contact NHS online or 111 with coronavirus symptoms. The government is aiming to increase routine community testing and you may now be offered a test.

If you live in Scotland and are worried about coronavirus symptoms, you can use NHS inform. If you are a concerned cancer patient, the advice is to call the Cancer Treatment helpline on 0800 917 7711.

When seeking advice about coronavirus symptoms, make sure you explain about pancreatic cancer. In a medical emergency, always dial 999.

Am I more at risk if I have pancreatic cancer or have had it in the past?

It is difficult to know exactly how much pancreatic cancer raises the risk of coronavirus or increases the severity of the disease. But we do know that some of the treatments and complications of pancreatic cancer make people more vulnerable.

If you are currently receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer such as surgery or chemotherapy, this may weaken your immune system and increase your chances of infection. It may also make it harder for your body to fight disease.

If you have had surgery for pancreatic cancer and recovered from the disease, your risk of infection may still be raised. Many types of surgery for pancreatic cancer involve removal of the spleen, an organ that is important for the immune system and fighting infection. This may mean that you are more at risk of the virus and potential complications.

Some people develop diabetes alongside pancreatic cancer or after surgery to remove part of the pancreas. This may increase the chances of complications as a result of coronavirus.

How can I reduce my risk/what can I do?

Government advice varies depending on whereabouts in the UK you live. It is important to check the advice in your area and remember that it may change regularly depending on infection rates. At present, strict lockdown rules are beginning to change so that if you are not in the most vulnerable groups you may be able to

  • Gather in small groups in outdoor spaces such as parks and gardens where you can remain 2 metres apart
  • Exercise with fewer limits on travel and duration of exercise
  • Access an increasing number of shops and businesses, following social distancing

Continue to follow NHS advice about preventing the spread of coronavirus;

  • Regularly washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
  • Use hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve (not hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • Put used tissues straight into the bin and wash your hands afterwards
  • Try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

What does it mean to be extremely vulnerable?

If you are receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer, or have had the disease in the past, you may be considered to be at the highest risk of catching coronavirus and developing complications.

Most people in the extremely vulnerable category should have already been contacted and advised to take part in shielding.

Shielding applies regardless of your age, health and advice for other groups. It means;

  • Strictly avoiding contact with anyone with symptoms of the coronavirus including a new cough or raised temperature
  • Do not leave your house unless attending an essential medical appointment (speak to your medical team to help decide which appointments are essential)
  • Do not attend any gatherings or have visitors to your home outside of your household
  • Do not go out to shop. Instead, ask friends, family or neighbours to help or use a delivery service. Ask for items to be left at the door and do not come into contact with those making the delivery

In England, people who are shielding can now leave their houses and spend time outdoors with members of their household or one other person from outside their household.

If you think that you qualify as extremely vulnerable but have not been contacted yet, this may be because cancer teams and GPs in your area are still reviewing patient lists to identify who needs to take part in shielding.

You can contact your medical team or GP for advice whilst you wait for your letter and act as though you are extremely vulnerable, following shielding advice while you wait for confirmation.

For more information on shielding and how to register for support please see our blog “update on shielding” which includes more advice

Will coronavirus affect my cancer treatment?

Doctors will consider your personal risk of coronavirus and pressures in your area and may decide to make changes to your planned treatments. Your treatment may be postponed to protect you from the worst effects of the virus.

Depending on where you live, cancer services in your area may be reorganised as the coronavirus outbreak continues. You may find that the location of your cancer treatment changes to a different hospital or cancer hub. Your doctor may adjust your treatment regime so that more of your treatment can be delivered at home.

Your medical team will contact you before any changes to your planned cancer treatment to discuss them with you and explain what will happen next. If you are worried about how coronavirus will affect your treatment, contact your medical team.

The number of cases in the UK is expected to climb and the advice from the government may change. Using the NHS website regularly is the best way to keep up to date with accurate and reliable advice.

Read more about treatment 

You can contact healthinfo@panact.org if you have any specific questions, or call us on 0303 040 1770.