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July 10, 2020

Coronavirus and Cancer

We understand that the media coverage on Coronavirus may be quite worrying, especially if you are living with or caring for somebody with cancer. However, we are reassured that the NHS will carry on providing treatment to patients with cancer as normal and are working extra hard on supply chains. Big C will continue to provide as many services as possible but in a different way. Our priority will always be to care for the health and welfare of those local people affected by cancer.
 
Many of our cancer support services are available over the phone, and online. Anyone wishing to access this support should call the Big C Support Team on 0800 092 7640. The line is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. All calls are free of charge.
 
Here we’ve included a set of FAQs that have been developed by the One Cancer Voice group of charities that will hopefully answer any questions you may have about Coronavirus.
 
People living with cancer now

Q1 Do I need to do anything differently as someone who is being treated / in remission from cancer/living with a chronic cancer?

We recommend everyone follows the NHS advice around reducing the risk of picking up infections including thoroughly and frequently washing your hands , practicing good hygiene and avoiding contact with people who are unwell: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid19/

 

Some people with cancer are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the COVID-19 infection:
  • People having chemotherapy, or who have received chemotherapy in the last 3 months
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • People having intensive (radical) radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
Cancer treatment providers may advise people in these groups to minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection by avoiding crowded environments, limiting social interaction and maintaining careful hand hygiene.
 

Q2 The NHS website says the impact of contracting coronavirus will be more serious for cancer patients. What does that mean? Would I be more likely to die?

Some people with cancer are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the COVID-19 infection:
  • People having chemotherapy, or who have received chemotherapy in the last 3 months
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • People having intensive (radical) radiotherapy for lung cancer
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
 
Your clinician may advise people in these groups to minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection by avoiding crowded environments, limiting social interaction and maintaining careful hand hygiene.
 

Q3 What will happen to my cancer treatment?/Will it be postponed?/Should I still go to hospital appointments?

The NHS will continue to provide cancer treatments as normal. In the event of any disruption, clinicians will always make decisions to prioritise treatment for those most in need and in consultation with patients. If you have any concerns or questions about your treatment, please speak to your clinical team. 
 

Q4 What are the symptoms likely to be?/Will the symptoms be different because I have cancer?/What should I look out for?

For the most up-to-date information about COVID-19, please visit the NHS website which outlines the common symptoms of coronavirus on its

Coronavirus can have serious effects on anyone who has a long-term health condition or a weakened immune system, including some people with cancer. 

Follow the advice on avoiding catching or spreading germs (see Q1). Get advice straight away if you are in contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, or if you need medical help. (see Q1)

Q5 What should I do if my clinician is diagnosed with coronavirus?

If your clinician is diagnosed with coronavirus and you have not seen them recently, then you are unlikely to have been exposed to coronavirus. If you are concerned about the impact this will have on your treatment, contact your hospital for advice.

Q6 Should I go to work / not see friends / not see friends who’ve travelled from affected areas?

We recommend everyone follows the NHS and government advice around reducing the risk of picking up infections, such as avoiding crowded places or coming into contact with the condition: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/.
 
We recommend everyone follows the NHS and government advice about what to do if they are concerned they have come into contact with someone with the coronavirus: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/common-questions/
 
The Foreign Office has the most up-to-date information about how different countries are affected: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/advice-for-travellers/

Q7 What if I have travel planned or a holiday booked to one of the affected areas – am I more at risk if I do travel?

The Government is currently advising against all non-essential travel. If you feel your travel is essential, you should talk to your clinical team about any plans. The Foreign Office has the most up-to-date information about how different countries are affected: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/advice-for-travellers/
 
People who have had cancer in the past

Q8 Does having had cancer treatment in the past (for example, stem cell transplants, chemotherapy, radiotherapy)– even if I am now in remission – increase my risk if I get the virus?

This depends on the type of cancer and the treatment you have had. Most people make a full recovery after cancer treatment and their immune system either recovers fully or is not affected (see Q1 response).

Family/friends/carers of people living with cancer

Q9 I have been exposed to the virus and am a carer for someone with cancer. What should I do?

The Government is currently advising that if you have symptoms and you live with a vulnerable person, you should try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

If you provide essential care (such as help with washing, dressing, or preparing meals), you may find guidance on Provision of Home Care useful.

Q10 I am a carer to someone with cancer. Should I be doing anything differently?

We recommend everyone follows the NHS advice on reducing the risk of picking up infections including thoroughly washing your hands frequently, practicing good hygiene and avoiding contact with people who are unwell: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/.
 
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The future

Q11 Will cancer patients be a priority for the vaccine if/when it is developed?

There is currently no vaccine for this form of coronavirus. Research is being done to develop a vaccine, but this will take many months. The BBC has written about this issue: www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51665497.
 
The best way to reduce your chance of infection is to follow the NHS advice on reducing the risk of picking up infections including thoroughly washing your hands frequently, practicing good hygiene and avoiding contact with people who are unwell: www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/.

Q12 If the pressure on the NHS grows, will my treatment be delayed?

We are reassured that the NHS will continue to provide cancer treatments as normal. In the event of any disruption, clinicians will always make decisions to prioritise treatment for those most in need and in consultation with patients.

Q13 Will there be problems accessing my cancer drugs?

There are currently no medicine shortages as a result of COVID-19. The country is well prepared to deal with any impacts of the coronavirus and we have stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.

The Department of Health and Social Care is working closely with industry, the NHS and others in the supply chain to ensure patients can access the medicines they need and precautions are in place to prevent future shortages.

There is no need for patients to change the way they order prescriptions or take their medicines. Patients should always follow the advice of doctors, pharmacists or other prescribers who prescribe and dispense their medicines and medical products. The NHS has tried-and-tested ways of making sure patients receive their medicines and medical products, even under difficult circumstances. If patients order extra prescriptions, or stockpile, it will put pressure on stocks, meaning that some patients may not get the medicines or medical products they need.

 
For people worried they have cancer

Q14 I am worried that I have symptoms of cancer. Should I still go to my GP?

 
It is important that you seek clinical advice if you have a worrying symptom. GP surgeries have been advised to offer online consultations and remote triage so that people do not have to attend in person unnecessarily. Please contact your GP surgery directly if you are worried about a possible cancer symptom. 
 

Q15 I have just been referred by my GP with suspected cancer. Should I attend my diagnostic appointment? 

 
Please discuss with the clinical team at the hospital.
 
In the event of any disruption, hospitals will always make decisions to prioritise tests for those most in need.

*The following charities have developed this guidance: Anthony Nolan, Bloodwise, Bowel Cancer UK, Brain Tumour Research, Brains Trust, Breast Cancer Now, Cancer 52, Cancer Research UK, Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Leukaemia Care, Lymphoma Action, Macmillan Cancer Support, Myeloma UK, Ovarian Cancer Action, Pancreatic Cancer UK, Prostate Cancer UK, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, Sarcoma UK and Teenage Cancer Trust.

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