If you have cancer, it’s understandable you might be worried about coronavirus. The Government and the NHS have both confirmed that cancer treatment should continue to be prioritised during the response to the COVID-19 emergency.
It is important people continue to seek help for new and ongoing issues. If you notice a change that isn’t normal for you, or if you have any possible signs and symptoms of cancer, you should still contact your doctor.
We’ve spoken to one of the charities offering support at this time, Macmillan Cancer Support, to help you understand the care you should expect to receive throughout the pandemic, and where to go for help.
The care you should expect to receive
Will my cancer care change?
People with cancer are among those at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. This is because cancer and treatment can weaken your immune system.
Services have been told to reduce contact to maximise the safety of patients with cancer, and make the best use of NHS resources, while protecting patients and staff from infection.
As a result of the outbreak, your healthcare team might review your cancer treatment plan. They will aim to continue with your treatment wherever possible but may need to change your treatment or prioritise certain treatments over others.
For example, face to face contact will be minimised by offering telephone or video consultations instead, and some non-essential face-to-face follow ups may be cut.
Will I be told if my cancer care changes?
Your team will contact you if there are any changes to your care or treatment. Any changes should be discussed with you, your families, and/ or carers – including the risks and benefits of changing treatment regimens or having treatment breaks.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) offers guidance on what you should expect from modifications to your usual service.
To help alleviate any fear about COVID-19, it should be communicated to you where to go for support with your mental wellbeing, charities which can help, and support groups available.
Contact your GP or cancer specialist if you are due to go to a hospital appointment.
You might have some telephone appointments with your consultant or specialist nurse instead, particularly for follow-up appointments and pre-treatment consultations. These appointments may also be postponed.
Where possible, local services will be used for blood tests.
Access to cancer drugs
There isn’t currently a shortage of medicines due to the coronavirus outbreak. For example, there are stockpiles of drugs like paracetamol in case there are any issues with supply.
The government is working closely with the NHS and those involved in supplying medicines. They are making sure that patients can get the medicines they need. There are measures in place to prevent medicine shortages in the future.
Medicines will be available through home delivery services, if capacity allows. NICE guidance also recommends introducing drive through pick-up points for medicines.
Where to go for help
What do I do if I have coronavirus symptoms?
Contact your cancer advice line, chemotherapy helpline or Acute Oncology Service if you have symptoms of coronavirus and you are having cancer treatment or have cancer that affects your immune system.
You should do this as soon as possible if you have these symptoms and, or you feel unwell.
Your healthcare team will assess you over the phone and might ask you to stay at home. But you should speak to your advice line or healthcare team in the first instance.
Contact your advice line or healthcare team as soon as possible if you have symptoms. Or call 999 immediately if you are seriously ill.
If you have symptoms but you are not having cancer treatment, you can look at the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111.
What should I do if I have symptoms of cancer during the coronavirus outbreak?
It is important that you still contact your doctor if you notice a change that isn’t normal for you or if you have any possible signs and symptoms of cancer.
Even if you’re worried about what the symptom might be, or about getting coronavirus don’t delay contacting them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don’t make an appointment. The symptom might not be due to cancer. But if it is, the earlier it’s picked up the higher the chance of successful treatment. You won’t be wasting your doctor’s time.
Speak to your healthcare team
You might miss the reassurance of going into the hospital clinic to see familiar faces. Your healthcare team are doing their best to support you and protect you from developing COVID-19. If coronavirus is a particular worry for you, do mention this. Write down any questions you have so that you remember to ask them.
Looking after your mental health
Coping with a diagnosis of cancer is difficult. When you are trying to cope with an illness there is no right or wrong way to feel. Everyone is different and you will deal with things in your own way. The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, they’ll listen.