Patient information

Advice on coronavirus for people with cancer

On this blog page you will find information and advice on the coronavirus for people with cancer, including: symptoms, your risk if you have pancreatic cancer, how you can reduce your risk, when you are likely to receive the vaccine and whether the virus will affect your treatment.

Updated 20/01/2021

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, new treatments and vaccines had to be developed. 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. You will be directed towards help getting a test, from a test centre near you or from home. .

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, lockdown rules are becoming tighter, varying depending on where you live.

England

You must not leave, or be outside of your home except where necessary. You may leave the home to:

  • shop for basic necessities, for you or a vulnerable person
  • go to work, or provide voluntary or charitable services, if you cannot reasonably do so from home
  • exercise with your household (or support bubble) or one other person (in which case you should stay 2m apart). Exercise should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.
  • meet your support bubble or childcare bubble where necessary, but only if you are legally permitted to form one
  • seek medical assistance or avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse)
  • attend education or childcare – for those eligible

If you do leave home for a permitted reason, you should always stay local – unless it is necessary to go further, for example to go to work. Stay local means stay in the village, town, or part of the city where you live.

If you are clinically extremely vulnerable you are advised to only go out for medical appointments, exercise or if it is essential. We recommend that you do not attend work

You can find the full government guidance here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home#summary-what-you-can-and-cannot-do-during-the-national-lockdown

Wales

All of Wales is at Alter Level 4. This means you must:

  • Follow social distancing rules with people you don’t live with or who are not in your support bubble.
  • Wear a face covering (if you are able to) in all indoor public places.
  • Stay at home.
  • Not create an extended household (single adults or single parents may join with one other household to form an exclusive support bubble).
  • Meet only the people you live with or your support bubble indoors.
  • Meet only your household or support bubble in private gardens.
  • Meet only your household or support bubble outdoors.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Not travel without reasonable excuse.
  • Not travel internationally without reasonable excuse.

You can find the full Alter 4 guidance here: https://gov.wales/alert-level-4

Scotland

Mainland Scotland and some islands are in Level 4 lockdown with guidance to stay at home, except for essential purposes. These restrictions will remain in place until at least mid-February.

Some islands will remain at Level 3.

You can find which level you are in and which restrictions apply here: https://www.gov.scot/coronavirus-covid-19/

Northern Ireland

Everyone is required to stay at home unless they have a reasonable excuse to leave. A list of acceptable reasons to leave home has been provided by the Northern Ireland Executive here: https://www.executiveoffice-ni.gov.uk/covid-19-measures-january-2021-questions-and-answers

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
  • Anyone using public transport must wear a face covering

When will I get the vaccine?

As the vaccine begins to be rolled out there is potential for only small quantities to be available at a time. As a result England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have decided that certain groups will be prioritised to ensure it will be offered to those who are most at risk first. Eventually every adult will be offered the vaccine.

In England, the vaccine is currently being rolled out to:

  • people aged 80 and over
  • some people aged 70 and over
  • some people who are clinically extremely vulnerable
  • people who live or work in care homes
  • health and social care workers

In Scotland, the vaccine is currently being rolled out to:

  • people aged 80 and over
  • people who live or work in care homes

In Wales, the vaccine is currently being rolled out to:

  • people aged 80 and over
  • people who live or work in care homes

In Northern Ireland, the vaccine is currently being rolled out to:

  • people aged 80 and over
  • people who live or work in care homes
  • some people who are clinically extremely vulnerable
  • health and social care workers

Will coronavirus affect my cancer treatment?

Doctors will have considered your personal risk of coronavirus and pressures in your area when making treatment decisions or changes to your planned treatment. Your treatment may have been 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.

You should now find that your treatments are beginning to be restored. This may not be in the same location as prior to the pandemic but medical teams are confident that changes have been made to protect you, and encourage you to attend any appointments.

If you are worried about how coronavirus has or will continue to affect your treatment, it is important to speak to your medical team.

Using the NHS website regularly is the best way to keep up to date with accurate and reliable advice.

You can contact [email protected] if you have any specific questions, or call us on 0303 040 1770.