Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know
What is coronavirus, or COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals. CDC is responding to an outbreak of respiratory disease caused by a novel (new) coronavirus that was first detected in China and has now been detected in the United States and many other countries. The virus has been named SARS-CoV-2, and the disease it causes has been named coronavirus disease 2019, which is abbreviated COVID-19.
This is a rapidly evolving situation and the risk assessment will be updated as needed.
If I have cancer, am I at higher risk of getting or dying from COVID-19?
Some types of cancer and treatments such as chemotherapy can weaken your immune system and may increase your risk of any infection, including with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. During chemotherapy, there will be times in your treatment cycle when you are at increased risk of infection.
Adults and children with serious chronic health conditions, including cancer, are at higher risk of developing more serious complications from contagious illnesses such as COVID-19.
If I have cancer, how can I protect myself?
There is currently no vaccine to prevent COVID-19 or specific treatment for it. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Precautions for avoiding COVID-19 are the same as for other contagious respiratory illnesses, such as influenza (flu).
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyday preventive measures to help prevent the spread of respiratory infections, including:
- Avoid large social gatherings and close contact with people who are sick
- Avoid unnecessary person-to-person contact, such as handshakes
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and before and after coming in contact with others
- Get a flu vaccine
CDC recommends additional actions to help keep people at high risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19 healthy in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, including:
- Stay home as much as possible
- Make sure you have access to several weeks of medication and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time
- When you do go out in public, avoid crowds
- Avoid cruise ship travel and nonessential air travel
I receive cancer treatment at a medical facility. What should I do about getting treatment?
If you are receiving treatment for your cancer, please call your health care provider before going to your next treatment appointment and follow their guidance. As health care systems adjust their activities to address COVID-19, doctors treating cancer patients may also have to change when and how cancer treatment and follow-up visits are carried out. The risk of missing a cancer treatment or medical appointment must be weighed against the possibility of exposing a patient to infection.
Some cancer treatments can be safely delayed, while others cannot. Some routine follow-up visits may be safely delayed or conducted through telemedicine. If you take oral cancer drugs, you may be able to have prescribed treatments sent directly to you, so you don’t have to go to a pharmacy. A hospital or other medical facility may ask you to go to a specific clinic, away from those treating people sick with coronavirus.
The coronavirus situation is changing daily, with states and cities making changes in how they are handling quarantine and critical health care, so check with your provider as needed.
I participate in a clinical trial at a medical facility. What should I do?
If you are in a cancer treatment clinical trial, please call your clinical trial research team and follow their guidance. Physicians and scientists at NCI are working with doctors and health care staff who carry out NCI-sponsored clinical trials across the United States and in Canada to implement specific measures within our clinical trials networks that will address the current challenges of providing care to patients enrolled in clinical trials. The health of each clinical trial patient is the institute’s most important concern, and NCI is flexible about how clinical trial treatments can be completed and when tests and assessments must be done.
The Institutional Review Boards that oversee each protocol to ensure the safety of patients will work with investigators quickly to make changes that will provide flexibility while maintaining patient safety.
What should I do if I have symptoms of an infection?
Call your health care provider if you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and have symptoms of an infection.
What if I have additional questions?
NCI’s Cancer Information Service (CIS), can help answer questions that you or a loved one may have about COVID-19 or your care.
To reach the CIS:
- Call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time in English or Spanish. After business hours, recorded information is available.
- Online LiveHelp® chat offers online assistance in English and Spanish Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.