The coronavirus is a flu-like virus. It causes an illness called COVID-19 that affects your lungs and airways. For most people, the virus won’t cause serious problems. However, for people who have a low immunity, the virus can have serious complications. People who are affected by cancer or are undergoing Cancer Treatment may have a weak immune system, and hence may be at a higher risk due to corona.
How can cancer and its treatment weaken immunity?
The immune system protects the body against illness and infection caused by viruses like coronavirus. People with cancer have a weaker immune system which might reduce their ability to fight these infections.
This is because some treatments, like chemotherapy, can stop the bone marrow from making enough white blood cells. White blood cells are an important part of immune system that helps in fighting the infection. Leukemia or Lymphoma are some of the cancers that affects the immune system adversely. Further, cancer treatments including Chemotherapy weaken the body’s immune system.
What do I do if I have symptoms?
The symptoms of coronavirus include:
- High temperature of above 37.8C and, or
- Continuously coughing for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may become worse than usual)
Contact your doctor, Chemotherapy helpline or your local health Service immediately if you face these symptoms. This should be done as soon as possible if one feels unwell due to these symptoms.
What’s the advice for people with cancer (who have no symptoms of coronavirus)?
Stay at home (vulnerable groups)
Some people with cancer are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they develop the corona infection. Take precautions carefully if you are in one of these following groups to protect yourself from corona infection:
- Undergoing Chemotherapy treatment
- Undergoing radical Radiotherapy for lung cancer
- Undergoing Immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
- Undergoing other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
- Have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
- Affected by blood or bone marrow cancer such as leukemia, Lymphoma or myeloma
If you are unsure of what treatment you are undergoing and whether you are in one of these groups, speak with your oncologist to access better care for yourself.
What is shielding?
The measures taken to save lives is called shielding. This means to stay home all the time and avoid face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks. You can continue to have visits from anyone who helps you with essential support. For example, healthcare staff or carers.
All visitors are required to wash their hands as soon as they enter your house with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. You should:
- Avoid meeting anyone who has possible coronavirus symptoms
- Stay at home
- Avoid family gatherings, even in private spaces
- Ask family or friends to arrange shopping for you and leave it at your door
I live with other people, what should we do?
Anyone who lives with you should reduce their meeting with outsiders wherever possible. You should practice social distancing by:
- Spending as less time as possible with other people that you live with in shared spaces, such as the kitchen or living room. Keep these areas well ventilated.
- Try to maintain 2 meters (3 steps) distance from people you live with. Sleep on a different bed.
- Use separate towels.
- Use a separate bathroom if possible. If you need to share a toilet and bathroom, it requires proper cleanliness and hygiene.
- Everyone should wash their hands regularly, avoid touching your face and keep cleaning frequently touched surfaces.
The decision to protect yourself from coronavirus with shielding measures is your personal choice and circumstances.
Help with shopping and medicines
Ask friends and family to help pick up shopping or organize deliveries if possible. If this is difficult, there may be a local volunteer or charity group that can help.
I have cancer but I’m not in one of the vulnerable groups, what should I do? (Social Distancing)
If you are not in one of the above mentioned vulnerable groups, you should follow guidelines for social distancing. The aim is to reduce your risk of catching and spreading of the coronavirus.
Social distancing means reducing your social contact with other people. The guidance includes:
- Steps you can take to reduce your social interaction
- Importance of looking after your mental well being and keeping in touch with others
- Advice for visitors and informal carers.
I’ve had cancer in the past but I’m no longer having treatment am I still at risk of becoming seriously ill with corona?
Most of the people with cancer are at risk because they might have weaker immune system.
Usually after any cancer treatment, immune system recovers gradually with time. So you can be in the vulnerable group if you’ve had cancer in the past, or if you have any specific condition which might affect your breathing adversely.
Please remember that you might be in the vulnerable group even if you are not on treatment and chances might increase if you are having any type of blood / bone marrow cancer such as leukemia, Lymphoma or myeloma.
Contact your health care team if you are uncertain or you’re still concerned that you might be in the vulnerable group. You can defeat Corona with adequate measures. We are in this together.