COVID-19 is here to stay for now - and over the last couple of weeks, we've received many questions about staying safe, so we had Liz, our friendly Oncology Specialist Nurse answer them.
Cancer & the coronavirus: Common Questions
by Liz Bradley
Please note that our position is subject to change in response to national guidance and the fast-moving nature of the situation.
1. I'm waiting for my results. Is there anything I need to do to stay safe in the meantime?
We understand that this is a worrying time for anyone waiting for results but also with coronavirus around. The current recommendations as of today are as follows:
How to avoid catching and spreading coronavirus (social distancing)
Everyone should do what they can to stop coronavirus spreading.
It is particularly important for people who:
are 70 or over
have a long-term condition
have a weakened immune system
- wash your hands with soap and water often – do this for at least 20 seconds
- always wash your hands when you get home or into work
- use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
- cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
- put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards
- avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of coronavirus
- only travel on public transport if you need to
- work from home, if you can
- avoid social activities, such as going to pubs, restaurants, theatres and cinemas
- avoid events with large groups of people
- use phone, online services, or apps to contact your GP surgery or other NHS services
- do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean
- do not have visitors to your home, including friends and family
2. I've just been diagnosed and I'm very scared I will not be taken care of due to the entire coronavirus madness. I need some reassurance please!
We can understand for anyone that is newly diagnosed with cancer at this time, that they may have concerns as to how the NHS will cope in the light of increased pressures on resources. It is true that many hospitals would have cancelled non urgent surgery to make way for the increased demand but cancer surgery and cancer treatments including chemotherapy and radiotherapy are prioritised and would in my experience continue.
There is a possibility that some consultations may be held over the phone to avoid unnecessary trips in to the hospital. The NHS are committed to ensuring that all cancer patients continue to receive the care they need at this time.
3. I'm receiving chemotherapy. Should I stay at home?
In a word, yes as far as possible. It is vitally important that you monitor your temperature if you are on chemotherapy and if it is raised above 37.5 degrees centigrade, then make contact with your health care professionals at the cancer centre you are being treated at. Do not feel you are wasting anyone’s time by mentioning it. They would much rather you made contact as soon as possible. The government has issued guidance as per above table for social distancing and patients on chemotherapy should adhere to this.
4. I finished chemo. Am I at risk?
If you are more than 3 months post chemotherapy treatment, then your immunity will have come back to a normal level, Less than 3 months and you should follow the same guidance as if you were still on active treatment.
5. I finished radiotherapy recently. Should I be worried?
It would be wise to err on the side of caution immediately post radiotherapy and also follow guidance on social distancing until at least 6 weeks post treatment.
6. I'm in remission. Should I be worried?
That's great news that you are in remission but understand you still have concerns. Following the recent government guidance on social distancing will reduce risk of anyone passing on the coronavirus.
7. Are there any extra precautions I can take as a cancer patient?
If you are on active cancer treatment, keep a close eye on your temperature and follow the guidance on keeping away from family and friends as far as possible.
People with a certain type of cancer fall into the 'extremely vulnerable' category and should follow the government's guidance on shielding, published on 21st of March.
- people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
- people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
- 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 who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
The NHS will contact you by 29th March to provide you further advice.
As per the latest government update, if you fall into any of this category, you should stick to the following measures:
- Strictly avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus.
- Do not leave your house.
- Do not attend any gathering. This includes gatherings of friends and families in private spaces for example family homes, weddings and religious services.
- 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.
- Keep in touch using remote technology, such as phone, internet and social media.
8. Can I travel to the hospital to get treatment?
Yes, but avoid public transport. Most hospitals now would have put a restriction on relatives and friends accompanying patients to reduce the risk of increased footfall and possible spread of disease. This may be distressing to some patients who usually take a loved one with then for treatment but this has had to be done to protect patients who are most vulnerable.
9. Will they cancel my treatment?
The NHS are committed to providing a continued service for cancer patients during the coronavirus outbreak. However, there may be a need to swap treatment days at short notice or possibly have a cycle of treatment deferred if deemed not life threatening. This would all be done on a patient by patient basis.
10. I'm caring for a loved one. Can I go out and about, go to work, do the groceries etc. Is there anything I need to do to protect our health?
As per national guidance issued on 16th March it is recommended and advised that everyone in the country needs to do what they can to stop the spread of coronavirus as per the following link: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/.
11. What should I do if I develop flu-like symptoms?
How long to stay at home
- if you have symptoms, stay at home for 7 days
- if you live with other people, they should stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person got symptoms
If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days. If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.
12. I'm feeling very anxious and worried, can I talk to anyone?
It is completely natural to be anxious particularly with the recent guidance that instructs people to socially distance themselves from others at this time.
13. Is there anything I can do to boost my immune system back once treatment ends?
Sadly there is no magic cure for boosting the body's immunity after treatment ends. Time is a great healer.
14. Will taking vitamins be safe and boost my immune system?
It is recommended to discuss the taking of any vitamins or supplements with your medical team. In my experience most Clinicians are more than happy for patients to take vitamin supplements but there is no evidence to suggest that they can miraculously boost immunity. The taking of vitamin C 1000mcg per day has been shown to reduce the length of time you may have a cold for, not for stopping getting one in the first place.
15. I have travel plans for Easter. Should I cancel?
The following link may assist with travel planning but the guidance for social distancing now recommends that travel should only be for essential trips only:
Liz has been a registered nurse for 25 years, 20 of which have been spent working with cancer patients. She currently manages a chemotherapy unit in Essex and cannot imagine doing anything else apart from oncology nursing. Liz has also worked in a variety of oncology specialist nurse roles including breast and blood cancers and has a in-depth understanding of what patients embarking on or completing cancer treatments need most advice about or help with finding out information on.
If you have questions or would like to get practical advice on treatment, side effects and living with cancer, you can ask Liz here. .