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 25/03/2020 (Becky Rice, Health and Policy Manager . Nurse . Master of Public Health)

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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.

About coronavirus

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

Because this type of corona virus 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. Corona virus 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 a fever (raised temperature), cough and shortness of breath. 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.

Routine testing for coronavirus is currently not taking place in the community. You are advised to contact NHS online or 111 only if you are concerned about your symptoms, they do not improve after seven days or you cannot manage them at home. Make sure you explain about pancreatic cancer when seeking advice. 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 too soon to know for certain how much greater the risk of infection is for people living with pancreatic cancer or who have had the disease in the past. However, it is likely that your risk of coronavirus will be elevated, as will the risk of more severe symptoms.

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.

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

If you are currently receiving certain treatment for pancreatic cancer, you may be contacted over the coming days and weeks by NHS England, who will advise measures to take to avoid infection.

On the 24th of March, the government issued new advice for vulnerable people about coronavirus. If you are currently receiving chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer, or had treatment for the condition involving the removal of your spleen, regardless of your age or health, you are recommended to take part in shielding measures to protect you from the virus.

These include;

  • 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, 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.

If you are receiving any other cancer treatments, it is still recommended that you take steps to socially distance yourself from others to avoid being infected.

These include;

  • Avoiding contact with anyone with symptoms of coronavirus
  • Avoid public transport and only travel when necessary
  • Work from home wherever possible
  • Avoid gatherings and visiting places such as bars, clubs, cinemas etc
  • Avoid face to face contact with friends and family
  • Use telephone and online services to contact your GP or any other essential services
  • Use online services or ask family, friends or neighbours to support with food shopping, medicines and other tasks

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

Will coronavirus affect my cancer treatment?

You should currently continue to receive cancer treatments as normal. If there is likely to be any disruption, doctors will make decisions to prioritise treatments for those who are most in need and will discuss this with you.

The NHS has carried out a lot of work to ensure that supplies of medicines and medical devices are available to patients in any scenario. 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.

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