Cancer and Coronavirus: What You Need To Know

Image from the World Health Organization

In January, a new coronavirus (COVID-19) was identified as the cause of a pneumonia outbreak originating in Wuhan, China. The situation is rapidly evolving and Health Canada, along with the Ministry of Health, is closely monitoring the outbreak, conducting surveillance and appropriate laboratory testing, and providing public health and infection control guidance. Yesterday, the World Health Organization deemed the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

Concerned about coronavirus as it relates to a cancer diagnosis or treatment? Here is a helpful resource created by One Cancer Voice, a coalition of cancer groups in the UK.

Some people with cancer are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the COVID-19 infection (commonly known as the Coronavirus), including:

• 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
• 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 some types of blood cancer which damage the immune system, even if they have not needed treatment (for example, chronic leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma).

Your clinician may advise people in these groups to minimize their risk of exposure to COVID-19 infection by avoiding crowded environments, limiting social interaction and maintaining careful hand hygiene.

Cancer treatment providers may also seek to minimize the time people in these groups spend in hospital departments, for example by enabling them to consult their hospital teams by telephone, and having blood tests done or at home where this is possible.

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

Health Canada outlines the common symptoms of coronavirus here. 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 above advice on avoiding catching or spreading germs. If you are in contact with someone with confirmed coronavirus, or if you need medical help, seek assistance right away.

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

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

We recommend everyone follows the advice around reducing the risk of picking up infections, such as avoiding crowded places or coming into contact with the condition. Click here for Health Canada’s advice on reducing risk.

The Foreign Office has the most up-to-date information about how different countries are affected:

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?

How cancer affects your travels will depend on a number of things. These include the type of cancer you have and how it is being treated. You should talk to your treatment team about any plans.

Does having had cancer treatment in the past (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.

Anyone concerned that they may have been exposed to, or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus), should contact their primary care provider, local public health unit, or Telehealth at

For updates from the Canadian Cancer Society on COVID-19, click here.

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