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COVID-19 resources

COVID-19 has changed the way all of us live our lives, including people with cancer. In these unprecedented times, you may have some worries or questions about COVID-19, and how it impacts you as someone living with cancer. 

This page should help to give you some information and guidance. But it’s important to remember to follow both your medical team’s and your country’s public health body’s advice regarding COVID-19. 

COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) is a disease caused by a type of virus known as a coronavirus. It was first identified in an outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.1

The virus spreads between people through small liquid particles when an infected person coughs, sneezes, speaks, or breathes in close contact with another person. It can also be spread when people touch their mouth, eyes, or nose after touching surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus.2

Symptoms of COVID-19 generally appear 2–14 days after someone has encountered the virus and range from mild symptoms to severe illness. Not everyone will get all the symptoms below, and some people may get additional ones. The three main symptoms are:3,4

  • Fever or chills 
  • Cough 
  • New loss of taste or smell 

Other symptoms include: 

  • Headache  
  • Congestion or runny nose  
  • Sneezing 
  • Sore throat  
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Fatigue 
  • Muscle or body aches 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea 

As a person with cancer, or who is actively receiving cancer treatment, you’re likely to be at a very high risk for developing serious complications from a COVID-19 infection.5,6 This is because people with cancer may have weakened immune systems, either due to the cancer itself or due to cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy.7

As a result, you should understand the risks of COVID-19 and take sensible steps to help minimise the likelihood of you catching the virus and avoid it spreading to other people. 

Try not to worry if you do catch COVID-19, as your care team are there to support you. Also, early results of a study (called SOAP) looking at COVID-19 and people who have cancer have found that people with solid cancers (abnormal cell growth in ‘solid’ organs like the lungs) are able to fight a COVID-19 infection in a similar way to those who don’t have cancer. In addition, it’s unlikely that COVID-19 can make someone’s cancer worse.

There are simple steps that you can take to minimise your risk of catching COVID-19 or spreading it. These include:2

  • Getting a coronavirus vaccine when it’s offered to you 
  • Washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds 
  • If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol, completely covering your hands, between your fingers, around your nailbeds, and your wrists.9 As you rub the hand gel in, you should also try and make sure your hands are wet with the gel for at least 30 seconds9 – alcohol gels will evaporate quickly though, so you may need to reapply while you rub it in 
  • Avoid touching your face and eyes 
  • If you need to cough or sneeze, use a tissue, then throw the tissue away, or cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand 
  • If your government’s public health service advises it, stay indoors, and avoid leaving your house unless it’s for the essential, permitted purposes.10 For important trips like shopping, you can ask a friend or family member to go on your behalf or check social media for local volunteer groups who might be able to help you 
  • Consider wearing a mask or face covering that covers the nose and mouth. This can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially because some people with COVID-19 have no symptoms and don’t know they have the virus, or they may not yet have developed symptoms 
  • Practice social distancing, and stay the recommended minimum distance away from other people (check your government’s public health advice for what this distance is) 
  • Regularly clean frequently touched objects and surfaces 
  • Keep rooms well ventilated 

Overall, most expert medical specialists and groups recommend that most people with cancer should get a COVID-19 vaccine.11 Everybody’s situation is different, so it’s best to discuss the risks and benefits of getting the COVID-19 vaccine with your healthcare team, who can advise you further.12

This is especially important if you’re currently receiving cancer treatment. Although vaccines can be given before, during, or after cancer treatment, your healthcare team can decide when is best for you.11 For example, if you’re due to start cancer treatment or have surgery, your healthcare team might recommend that you have a vaccination before your treatment begins, to provide a better chance of protection. 

Your health during the COVID-19 pandemic 

Being advised to stay at home and reduce face-to-face contact can throw you out of your routine and add extra stress on top of living with cancer. That’s why it’s important to stay on top of your physical and mental health during the pandemic. 

Physical health

You may be finding it more difficult to exercise while staying indoors. Exercise can improve our mood and boost our overall health,13 so it might be useful to have a look online for some simple home workouts. You can even search for workouts that are suitable for people with cancer – these will help you keep fit, even if you have mobility needs. 

You don’t have to begin a workout routine if you’re not feeling up to it – simple things like walking to the shops, gardening, or walking up the stairs are all forms of exercise.  

Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is also important while you’re at home. This might seem difficult if you’re unable to get to the shops or find ingredients to cook with. Whether you visit the shops yourself or have a friend or loved one visit for you, it’s a good idea to stock up on basic foods, such as: canned beans, fish, or meat, ready meals, long-life milk, cans of custard or rice pudding, breakfast cereals, tinned fruit/vegetables, long-life fruit juice, and cans or packets of soup.  

As we spend more time indoors, getting enough sunshine might also be difficult. Sunshine on the skin is important, as it helps us produce vitamin D, which is needed for healthy bones and muscles.14,15 You may consider taking vitamin D supplements while you’re advised to stay at home. You can buy supplements at supermarkets, pharmacies, and other shops. The recommended dose of vitamin D is 10 micrograms per day. As always, check with your healthcare team before starting a new supplement or medication.7

Mental health

Living with cancer can be difficult enough without the added worry of COVID-19. You may feel worried about catching COVID-19, or a loved one catching it. Spending more time at home can also be a challenging time, whether you live alone or with family. If you’re struggling with anxiety or feelings of depression, never be afraid to speak out and ask for help from your friends, family, or care team, who are all there to support you. 

Here are some things you can do to help support your mental health:13,16

  • Try to create a routine for yourself – this is particularly important if you’re at home, and you’ve lost your normal routine  
  • Try to do things you enjoy, whether that’s reading, singing, cooking, or drawing 
  • Keep in contact with family and friends. Use a video app so you can see them while you chat – you can even have a meal together or watch a movie over a video call 
  • Keep a journal of your thoughts, feelings, and concerns – as well as allowing you to release your worries, a journal can help you notice things that make you anxious, which you can then avoid if possible 
  • Check out mental health apps for extra support – there are lots of apps that can help with anxiety, depression, or sleeping problems 
  • If you’re feeling like you can’t cope, reach out to a friend or loved one, or speak to your GP or care team. Your GP and care team can get you more help, including counselling or therapy. These services can provide you with useful coping mechanisms and techniques, as well as giving you space to talk 

Click on one of the options below to learn more 

Coronavirus disease 2019.

  1. Coronavirus and COVID-19: what people with cancer need to know. 2021. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  2. World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): How is it transmitted? Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of COVID-19. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  4. National Health Service. Main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19). 2021. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  5. Macmillan Cancer Support. Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for people with cancer. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  6. National Health Service. Who's at higher risk from coronavirus. 2020. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  7. Cancer Research UK. Coronavirus (COVID-19) and cancer. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  8. Cancer Research UK. A study looking at COVID-19 and people who have cancer (SOAP). Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  9. Kampf G et al. BMC Infect Dis 2008; 8: 149. 
  10. UK Cabinet Office. Coronavirus outbreak FAQs: what you can and can't do. 2020. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  11. Macmillan Cancer Support. Coronavirus vaccines and cancer treatment. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  12. COVID-19 vaccines in people with cancer. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  13. National Health Service. Mental wellbeing while staying at home. 2020. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  14. The British Dietetic Association. COVID-19/coronavirus – advice for the general public. 2020. Available at: Accessed August 2021. 
  15. Wacker M, Holick MF. Dermatoendocrinology 2013; 5(1): 51–108. 
  16. Cancer Research UK. Living well with cancer during the coronavirus pandemic. Available at: Accessed August 2021.