I AM A CANCER PATIENT – HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF?

Friday 27th March 2020

What symptoms should I be aware of?

COVID-19 is a viral infection that affects your lungs and airways. The most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) are recent onset of:

  • new continuous cough and/or
  • high temperature (above 37.8 °C)

However, there are an increasing number of signs and symptoms that are beginning to emerge as features of coronavirus. Immunosuppressed patients may not have the typical signs and symptoms of coronavirus. If you are worried, speak to your GP urgently. 

What steps can I take to reduce my risk?

  • wash your hands more often – with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use a hand sanitiser. Do this after you blow your nose, sneeze or cough, and after you eat or handle food
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • avoid close contact with people who have symptoms
  • cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in a bin
  • clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in the home
  • Do not share towels with household contacts

Which cancer patients are most at risk?

Some people with cancer are more at risk of becoming seriously ill. These include: 

  • Those who are undergoing active chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy,  antibody treatments for cancer, protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
  • Blood or bone marrow cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma, at any stage of treatment
  • Anyone who has had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who is still taking immunosuppressive drugs.

I fall into one of the above, what should I do?

The government advises that you should rigorously follow shielding measures to protect yourself. If you have not already, you will be receiving a letter from NHS England very soon to outline how to do this:

  • Do not leave your house for a minimum of 12 weeks avoiding any face-to face contact  (this period of time may change depending on the level of risk)
  • Avoid contact with anyone displaying symptoms of coronavirus. 
  • Do not attend any gatherings and avoid having any visitors in your home
  • If you live with other people, ensure you maintain a 2m distance and do not share utensils, towels and avoid touching. 
  • Contact your pharmacists to request for your medications to be delivered to you
  • Do not go out for shopping, leisure or travel and, when arranging food or medication deliveries, these should be left at the door to minimise contact.
  • If you receive social care or personal care ensure your carers adopt hand hygiene techniques discussed on entering your home and have a contingency plan in place should they get symptoms. 
  • Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet and social media
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services

I fall into one of the ‘extreme’ risk categories but I haven’t received a letter from the NHS?

Depending on who is caring for you, contact your GP or hospital clinic for further information on this. 

What’s the difference between social distancing, self-isolating and shielding?

Self-isolation:

Refers to people with symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus, and do not require hospital treatment, who must remain at home until they are well. This also extends to those living in households with someone who shows symptoms that may be caused by coronavirus. People are advised to self-isolate for 7 days if they have symptoms, and for the entire household for 14-days.

Social distancing:

Measures everyone should all be taking to reduce social interaction between people in order to reduce the transmission and spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). 

Shielding:

Shielding is a measure to protect people who are clinically extremely vulnerable by minimising all interaction between those who are extremely vulnerable and others. 

What if I develop symptoms as a high risk individual?

  • If you think you have developed symptoms seek clinical advice using the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111. 
  • Do this as soon as you get symptoms.

How can I get assistance if I live alone and have received a letter advising shielding?

  • Ask family, friends and neighbours to support you and use online services where you can. If this is not possible, you can register for the support you need, including help with shopping and additional care, at: www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable
  • If you do not currently have your prescriptions collected or delivered, you can arrange this by either asking someone to pick up your prescription or contacting your pharmacy to ask them to deliver to you.
  • If you receive medication from the hospital please arrange for collection or delivery for the next 12 weeks
  • If you receive support from social care organisations this will continue as normal. Your health or social care provider will be asked to take additional precautions to make sure that you are protected.

I am a cancer patient but don’t fall into the extremely vulnerable group. What should I be doing?

Everyone is now being advised to practise social distancing, however those with underlying medical conditions, such as a cancer diagnosis, are encouraged to follow these measures rigorously:

  • Avoid use of public transport where possible
  • Work from home where possible. Your employer should support you to do this. Please refer to employer guidance for more information
  • Avoid gatherings 
  • Use telephone or online services to contact friends and family as well as your GP or other essential services

I have had treatment for cancer in the past but I am now in remission. Does this increase my risk if I catch coronavirus? 

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. If you have any concerns please speak with your clinical team or GP. 

I am worried what will happen to my cancer treatment.

Please see our article titled Cancer Treatment for more information

Resources

This article was accurate as of the 27th March 2020.