Coronavirus (COVID-19) and cancer
When you have cancer, you and your loved ones might feel especially worried about coronavirus. This is because cancer and its treatment can lower your ability to fight infection.
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is an infectious illness caused by a type of coronavirus. There are several types of coronaviruses. Some cause mild illnesses such as a cold. Others can be more serious and affect your breathing or respiratory system. For most people, the virus won't cause serious problems. But for some people, the virus can have severe complications.
Coronavirus spreads when an infected person is in close contact with another person. 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.
Research shows that coronavirus can live up to a few days on various surfaces. But the risk of getting the virus from contaminated surfaces is very low.
Am I at more risk of becoming unwell because I have cancer?
You are at a higher risk of complications if you have cancer. This is because cancer and its treatment can weaken your
Some types of cancer can also lower your ability to fight infection. This is usually cancer that affects your immune system, such as
I have cancer and have symptoms of coronavirus
The main symptoms of coronavirus include:
- a high temperature of 37.8C or above and, or
- a new continuous cough. This means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours. If you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual
- a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell. This means you can't smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal
- shortness of breath
- tiredness or feeling exhausted
- an aching body
- a headache
- a sore throat
- a blocked or runny nose
- loss of appetite
- feeling sick or being sick
If you have cancer treatment or a cancer that affects your immune system, you should reach out for support when you:
- have symptoms of coronavirus
- 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.
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 ?
We have more information on how to protect yourself from coronavirus if you have cancer.
Treatment for COVID-19
People most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 can have treatment with
The drugs available are:
- sotrovimab (Xevudy) - a
The PANORAMIC national study
The national study called ‘PANORAMIC’ is recruiting people in the UK. The study is on antiviral drugs. GP hubs are working with the researchers to get people for the study. If you qualify for the study, you will be able to take an antiviral drug at home.
To take part in the study, you must:
- have a positive PCR or lateral flow test
- feel unwell with symptoms of COVID-19 that started in the last five days
- be aged 50 and over or 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition that puts you more at risk of severe COVID-19
When taking part in the study, you will either be in a group that receives:
- antiviral treatment plus standard care
- the current standard care for COVID-19
If you qualify for the study, someone from the study team will contact you. Your GP or another local healthcare professional might also contact you. They will ask you to sign up for the study. You can also sign up yourself through the study’s website.
You can read more detail on the PANORAMIC study website.
How to get the COVID-19 treatments
If you are at risk of severe COVID, the NHS will contact you. You qualify for treatment with these drugs should you test positive for COVID-19.
You will be able to keep a lateral flow test at home from GOV.UK or NHS 119. This way, you can test quickly and get the treatments as soon as possible.
You must report your positive test result on GOV.UK so that the NHS can contact you.
Remember to fill out your information correctly. Use the same postcode that's on your GP record. This way you can be identified. If you think your GP surgery might not have your current address, contact them to update it.
If you cannot report your test result online, you can call NHS 119 free of charge.
Once you've reported a positive test, someone from the NHS will contact you. They will do an assessment and tell you the best treatment for you.
You get some treatments as a drip into your arm. If this is the best treatment for you, you will be asked to visit a local hospital or health centre. If a tablet is suggested to you, you can either get someone to collect it for you or have it delivered to your home.
What to do if NHS has not contacted you
It might happen that the NHS doesn't send you tests to keep at home or information about the above treatments. If you think you are at risk of severe COVID should you test positive, you can contact:
- your healthcare team at the hospital
- your GP
- 111 and explain your situation
I have cancer but I don't have a weakened immune system
If you don't have a weakened immune system, you should follow the guidance for the rest of the population. This can help to reduce your risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus.
You can read more about the government guidance for each UK country. Follow the links at the bottom of this page, in the 'More information' section.
I’ve had cancer and finished treatment. Am I at risk from coronavirus?
After cancer treatment, your immune system usually recovers over time. So if you've had cancer in the past, it is unlikely that you have a weakened immune system if:
- it's some time since you finished treatment
- you don't have one of the other specific conditions that put you at higher risk
- you haven't received a letter or been contacted by your local authority
Contact your health care team if you are uncertain about your situation.
Coping with a diagnosis of cancer is difficult. For many people, the coronavirus is an extra concern and worry. Understandably, you might be anxious. So it is important to take good care of yourself.
There are help and support available and things you can do to help you cope if you’re waiting to start treatment.
More information and support is available for people living in different parts 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.
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.