For cancer patients currently on active treatment, particularly chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it is important to be aware that these treatments can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system during therapy and for a period of time after treatment.
Research shows that those who are immunosuppressed, or those with particular types of cancer such as blood cancer and lung cancer, can be more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 than members of the general public. On this page, you will find:
- Advice for patients currently on treatment
- Advice for people who have completed treatment for cancer
- Worries over a change in your body
- Reducing your risk
- Advice on cocooning
- What to do if you suspect you may be infected
- Helpful Resources
Advice for those currently on treatment:
Most importantly, if you are currently on treatment, whether chemotherapy or radiotherapy, you should continue to attend for your treatment unless you have been contacted directly to reschedule you appointment.
It is also important to be aware that some treatment plans and medications administered may be changed during this time. These changes are to help protect individual patients and achieve the best outcomes. Any changes made to your scheduled treatment will be made by your Consultant and should be discussed with you in advance.
You should be contacted by your oncology unit 1-2 days before your appointment, to check if you have any symptoms of coronavirus or have been in contact with anyone with the virus for your own safety, and for the safety of others receiving treatment. For planned hospital admissions, it may be necessary to cocoon and be tested for COVID-19 in advance. Your oncology team will tell you what to do if this is necessary.
While this may be difficult, you are advised to attend appointments without family members or carers, where possible, to reduce the risk of contracting or spreading the infection.
Advice for people with cancer:
If you are living with cancer or after cancer treatment, it is important to recognise your increased risk of developing coronavirus. People with cancer and on treatment are listed amongst those most vulnerable, so it’s important to recognise the steps you can take to keep yourself safe, and reduce your risk .
If you are concerned about symptoms of coronavirus (a cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, high temperature, loss of or change to your sense of taste or smell or a sore throat), phone your doctor immediately.
The risk of serious illness also increases with age or if you have a long term underlying health condition, such as heart disease or lung disease. Make sure you learn as much about your risk as possible so you know what to do should you start to feel unwell.
For more information on advice for those with cancer from the HSE, click here.
If you notice a change in your body:
While the recent COVID-19 pandemic has but many things on hold, cancer is not one of them. During this time of uncertainty, it is possible to ignore a change in your body over time or to put your health on the long finger. But we are encouraging everyone to stay on top of their physical health, and speak to their GP, in person or over the phone if they notice any changes.
If you notice:
- A new or changing lump
- Changes to the skin
- Abnormal bleeding
- Constant fatigue/ tiredness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Anything new that you are experiencing and isn’t going away
You should speak to your GP without delay. Your symptoms may not turn out to be cancer, but the sooner you seek help and a doctor knows of your ailments, the better it will be if you are referred on for further consultation and possible treatment.
Reducing your risk:
Taking the appropriate steps to help reduce your risk of coronavirus is an important step in keeping yourself and those around you safe.
Some steps you can take to reduce the spread are:
- Wash your hands properly and often with soap and water or alcohol hand rub.
- Cover your cough with a tissue, dispose of the tissue in a bin, and wash your hands.
- Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surface.
- Avoid close contact with people – keep 1-2 metres (6.5 feet) between you and others
- Wear face coverings in public places such as shops, and on public transport. The law
requires everyone to wear a face-covering on public transport. For more advice on how to manage these situations, click here.
- Follow national advice on limiting the number of people you come in contact with, either in your own home or outside.
- Avoid all crowded places, including parks and public amenities
- Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean.
- Do not share objects that touch your mouth – for example, bottles, cups.
- Do not shake hands.
These steps can feel unnatural to us and can at times be uncomfortable, but it is important to put your health, and the health of those around you first and adhere to the above steps to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
Advice on Cocooning:
Cocooning is the practice of social distancing to help protect those most vulnerable to the spread and complications of coronavirus. Cocooning requires that you stay mostly inside in your own home with limited face-to-face contact with people outside of your immediate family or social bubble.
For a full list of those recommended to cocoon, click here.
The steps you need to take when cocooning are:
- Avoid contact with anyone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus. For a full list of symptoms to look out for, click here.
- Continue to stay home where at all possible, limit social interactions with even small groups, and always maintain strict social distancing (1 – 2m) when coming into contact with others.
- Avoid using public transport where possible, and try to confine your shopping to designated times for vulnerable people (usually between 9am to 11am but check with your local store before your visit) or ask someone to do your shopping for you.
- Wear face coverings when in confined public spaces such as shops where social distancing may not be possible, and when in busy outdoor places.
- Keep in regular contact with others using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
- Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services rather than going in in person.
- If other people are living with you they should adhere to social distancing guidelines and try to keep 1m apart, and 2m where possible.
- Keep yourself mobile by getting up and moving as much as possible. If you have a garden or balcony, get out for fresh air at least once a day.
- Download the COVID-19 Tracker if you can.
Everyone wants you to keep well. So it is okay to take people up on their offers of help. Remind those in your support bubble of the extra steps you need to follow in order to stay safe while cocooning.
If you need practical assistance while cocooning, contact your local coronavirus support team. If you’re not sure about where to find this support, click here.
We also recognise how difficult it can be for cancer patients living with uncertainty at the moment. For advice to help to cope with coronavirus worry when you’re living with cancer, click here.
Worried you may be infected
If you develop signs of an infection and are being treated for cancer, it’s important to inform your GP or consultant as soon as possible.
The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to the common cold or flu but can be much more dangerous for those living with cancer. As with any infection, coronavirus is more likely to progress at a greater speed in a cancer patient. It is important to seek the expert opinion of a cancer doctor at an early stage, and to intervene early.
Some of the symptoms to be aware of:
- A sudden fever (feeling very hot, or very chilly and sweating) – this is a common sign of a high temperature and could indicate a viral or bacterial infection and should be looked at by your team. Always make sure you have a working thermometer in your home.
- Coughing or shortness of breath
- Sore throat
- Loss of sense of taste or smell
If you are not currently receiving treatment for cancer, follow the normal channels of testing –
- Isolate yourself from other people – this means going into a different, well-ventilated room, with a phone. Anyone else in the same household should restrict their outside movements.
- Phone your GP who can organise for a coronavirus test if needed
- In a medical emergency (if you have severe symptoms) phone 112 or 999
Presenting at emergency departments is NOT recommended unless you are advised to do so by your GP. These are now deemed safe places but with all restrictions in place and adhered to
For the most up to date advice on coronavirus implications and advice for those affected by cancer, visit the HSE website.
- For up to date information on the coronavirus in Ireland, visit the HSE website
- To download a copy of the Stay Safe COVID-19 Guideline booklet, click here
- For posters and educational materials translated into a wide array of different languages, click here.
- For information and advice on how to cope with fear and worry related to COVID-19 click here.
- Cancer and coronavirus information: https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/5/cancer/news/covid-19.html
- A three-step guide to preventing infection during chemotherapy is available to download here
- National Cancer Control Programme brochure, click here.
- Additional information on health, education and employment is available on the Citizens Information website here