Coronavirus (COVID-19)

When you have cancer, you might be worried about getting COVID-19 caused by a type of coronavirus. The virus can affect your breathing or respiratory system. Symptoms can vary, some people have mild symptoms, and others have severe symptoms.

The virus spreads when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings. This releases tiny droplets into the air. These droplets can reach anyone nearby, and they can get the virus.

Am I at more risk of becoming unwell with COVID-19 because I have cancer?

Some people with cancer are at a higher risk of complications. This is because cancer and its treatment can weaken your immune system Open a glossary item. This means you are less able to fight infections. The immune system protects your body against infections caused by viruses like coronavirus.

Some types of cancer can also lower your ability to fight infection. This is usually cancer that affects your immune system, such as leukaemia Open a glossary item or lymphoma Open a glossary item.

This page has information for adults with cancer. For coronavirus information for children with cancer, please visit the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) website.

COVID symptoms

The symptoms of COVID-19 may include:

  • a high temperature or shivering (chills)

  • a new, continuous cough, mostly dry, but some people may cough up phlegm

  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

  • shortness of breath

  • tiredness or exhaustion

  • muscle or joint pain

  • a headache

  • a sore throat

  • a blocked or runny nose

  • loss of appetite

  • diarrhoea

  • feeling or being sick

If you are having cancer treatment or have had it in the last 3 months, or have a cancer that affects your immune system, reach out for support if you:

  • have symptoms of COVID-19

  • feel unwell

You can contact:

  • your chemotherapy helpline

  • the Acute Oncology Service at your hospital

Your healthcare team will assess you over the phone and might ask you to stay at home.  

Call 999 immediately if you are feeling very ill.

If you have symptoms but are not having cancer treatment, you can look at the NHS coronavirus information or call NHS 111.  

How do I protect myself from coronavirus if I have cancer?

If you have a weakened immune system, you are at higher risk of getting unwell with an infection. You should protect yourself from coronavirus in the same way as you would against other infections. This might include wearing a mask when around others. Follow the advice from your healthcare team for your situation.

You can read more general information about protecting yourself against coronavirus. Follow the link to your part of the UK at the bottom of this page.

COVID treatment

People most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 can have treatment with antiviral and antibody drugs. This includes people with a weakened immune system, such as those:

  • with certain types of cancer
  • who had treatment for certain types of cancer
  • with a blood cancer

The drugs include:

How to get a COVID-19 treatment

Local NHS organisations organise COVID-19 treatments. How you get treatment will depend on where you live.

Follow the links lower down on this page to your part of the country for more information on how to get a COVID-19 treatment.

More information is also available from your local integrated care board (ICB).

COVID vaccine

A vaccine is a type of medicine. It trains the body's immune system Open a glossary item to fight a disease it has not come into contact with before. For infectious illnesses, vaccines try to prevent people from becoming ill with a disease.

Specialists say that it is important for people with cancer to have the vaccine, and it is safe.

The type of vaccine you have depends on several factors, including availability. The NHS uses two COVID-19 vaccines. They are:

  • Pfizer/-BioNTech (Comirnaty)

  • Moderna (Spikevax)

COVID-19 vaccine and cancer treatment

Specialists say that everyone having systemic anti cancer therapy (SACT) should be considered for the vaccine. Systemic anti cancer therapy includes treatments such as chemotherapy. It can cause a weakened immune system.

Your cancer treatment can also go ahead if you've had the vaccine. There is no need for your treatment to be delayed because of it.

When you can have the vaccine will depend on your type of treatment and where you are in your treatment plan.

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse for specific advice for your circumstances.

If you're about to start treatment that will cause a weakened immune system

You may need extra protection against coronavirus if you are about to start treatment that severely weakens your immune system. Your doctor will be able to tell you what type of vaccine to have and when to have it.

How well do the vaccines work for people with cancer?

Several studies have now published results on how well the vaccines work for people with cancer. In general, these studies show that if you have a weakened immune system, you might have less protection against the virus.

People with blood cancer, in particular, have less protection. This is when compared to people with solid cancers.

Protection against the virus increases with each dose for people with blood cancer. A study showed that after 3 doses of the vaccine, most people with a blood cancer had the same amount of T cells Open a glossary item as healthy people to help them fight COVID-19.

Another study showed that the vaccine protected against hospital admissions due to COVID-19. However, this protection was lower in people with blood cancer than in the general population. The study also showed that the vaccine’s protection against death from COVID-19 was the same for people with blood cancer as for the general population.

You can read more on the Blood Cancer UK website on how well the vaccines work for people with a blood cancer.

A study looking at COVID-19 and people who have cancer (SOAP)

A current Cancer Research UK study is looking at:

  • the different ways our immune system deals with COVID-19
  • if this can help predict what symptoms people might get
  • if COVID-19 has any direct or indirect effect on the cancer itself

COVID vaccine side effects

Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

Talk to your GP or healthcare team if you have:

  • severe allergies
  • had a life-threatening allergic reaction that happened very quickly (anaphylaxis) to a vaccine in the past

A very small number of people have had anaphylaxis when receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. If you have a history of an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the COVID-19 vaccine, you should not have it. You may have it if an expert says it is safe.

If you have any other allergies, such as a food allergy, including a previous anaphylaxis, you can usually have the vaccine.

Your GP or healthcare team can advise on what to do and whether you can have a COVID-19 vaccine. They may:

  • refer you to a specialist clinic for your vaccination
  • suggest you have an alternative COVID-19 vaccine

Swollen lymph nodes

A side effect of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines is lymph node swelling. You might have swollen lymph nodes in the armpit of the arm you had the vaccine in.

A research study shows that 65 out of every 100 (65%) people had swollen lymph nodes in their armpit within 2 weeks of having a second dose of the vaccines.

Talk to your doctor if you are worried about swollen lymph nodes.

Other side effects

People are often worried about the side effects of vaccines. Your healthcare team or GP will be able to give you advice about your situation. It is best to do this before going for the vaccine.

The person giving you the vaccine will also give you advice. They will talk to you about the general side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.

Seasonal COVID-19 vaccine

Seasonal COVID-19 vaccines became available in April 2024. They are available to:

  • people in a care home for older adults

  • people 75 years and over

  • those aged 6 months or over who have a weakened immune system

How do I get my seasonal COVID-19 booster vaccine?

The NHS will contact you if you are eligible for a seasonal spring 2024 COVID-19 vaccine. There are different ways to get them. You can:

  • book an appointment online
  • go to a walk-in COVID-19 vaccination site
  • book an appointment on the NHS App
  • go to a local NHS service, such as a GP surgery
  • have the vaccine at your care home

More information

The links below have more information on coronavirus in your part of the UK.


NHS inform has further information about the coronavirus for people living in Scotland.

The Scottish Government website has the latest guidance for people living in Scotland.


Public Health Wales has information and guidance for people living in Wales. Information is also available in Welsh.

The Welsh government website also has the latest guidance for people living in Wales.

Northern Ireland

The Public Health Agency has information for people living in Northern Ireland.

The government in Northern Ireland has the latest guidance on its website for people living in Northern Ireland.


The NHS website has all the latest information about the coronavirus and how to protect yourself.

The government website has the latest guidance for people living in England.

  • COVID-19 - SARS-CoV-2: The Greenbook, Chapter 14a
    Public Health England
    First published: 27 November 2020 and regularly updated on the GOV.UK website

  • Axillary Lymphadenopathy after Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 Vaccination: MRI Evaluation

    T Yoshikawa and others

    Radiology, 2022. Volume 306, Number 1

  • Robust SARS-CoV-2 T cell responses with common TCRαβ motifs toward COVID-19 vaccines in patients with hematological malignancy impacting B cells

    T Nguyen and others

    Cell Reports Medicine, April 2023. Volume 4, Issue 4, Page: 101017

  • Effectiveness and safety of COVID-19 vaccination in people with blood cancer

    E Copland and others

    European Journal of Cancer, 2024. Volume 201, 113603

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in.

Last reviewed: 
03 Jun 2024
Next review due: 
03 Dec 2024

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