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Coronavirus and cancer

Information and advice concerning the coronavirus for cancer patients, cancer survivors and their families

Last Reviewed: 4 August

Hospital updates for cancer patients

Read the latest updates from hospitals across Ireland regarding cancer-related services and treatments that are running in light of coronavirus.

TEST - University Hospital Dublin

Staying well while staying home

It's important that we all stay home at the moment to protect ourselves and our communities from coronavirus. Isolating at home can pose challenges to our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, so we've gathered some helpful resources and ideas for staying well while staying home.

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What research tells us about coronavirus and cancer

We have been inundated with a vast and often confusing array of information so we thought we’d try and make some sense of what research tells us about coronavirus, particularly as it pertains to cancer.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) frequently asked questions

What groups are most at risk from coronavirus?

It is still not known for sure which groups are most at risk of complications (ie more likely to be very unwell) if they catch coronavirus, but it is likely you are more at risk if you catch the virus and:

  • You are 60 years of age and over
  • You have a long-term medical condition – for example, heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes or liver disease.

Will cancer treatment increase the risk of contracting coronavirus?

Certain anti-cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy may affect your immune system and make it less able to prevent or resist infection. Blood cancers that affect bone marrow can also impact the immune system. Immune inhibition from treatments is usually short-lived and normal immunity recovers after several weeks. Not all cancer treatments will compromise the immune system but your cancer doctor will tell you if you are at risk of immune compromise with your treatment.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a new strain of a common virus and we are still learning how it works. If an immune compromised patient is exposed to coronavirus they may be at increased risk of becoming infected. The symptoms of coronavirus can be very mild in many people below the age of 50 who are infected. However, active cancer treatment may also mean that a patient is more likely to develop a serious complication of infection; for example pneumonia.

What if you are immunosuppressed due to active cancer treatment and develop symptoms?

The initial symptoms of coronavirus can be similar to other colds and flus.

Colds and flus can be more serious if your immune system is week, and this is also the case with coronavirus infections. If your immune system is suppressed due to ongoing cancer treatment or some of the medicines used in that treatment you should make contact with the clinic where you are being treated. They have protocols to help you specifically tailored to your individual treatment and current health status. If you are not on active treatment you should make contact with your GP our out of hours GP service without delay.

Should I still attend for my treatment in hospital?

It is recommended that you continue to attend appointments unless otherwise advised by your hospital. Hospitals are taking extra infection control measures to limit the risk of infection, such as screening and visitor and companion restrictions.

It is likely you will be contacted by phone before attending hospital to make sure you are in good health and not showing any signs of coronavirus infection. You will also be screened as you enter the hospital.

Stay up to date. The HSE has information for cancer patients and their families on https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/5/cancer/news/covid-19.html

I’m worried about a cancer symptom or symptom from previous treatment but don’t want to disturb my doctor

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to contact your GP if you are worried that you may be showing a sign or a symptom of cancer. When it comes to cancer early detection is key.

GPs, and in an emergency situation hospital Emergency Departments, are available to care for people when they are unwell. Cancer does not stop during coronavirus so it is important that people continue to be aware of the signs and symptoms and action any concerns they have.

If you notice any unexplained, persistent or unusual changes in how your body works, such as a lump, a pain that doesn’t go away, unexpected weight loss or unexplained bleeding, call your doctor.

Will I be able to get my cancer drugs and other medicines?

At present coronavirus is not causing any problems with the supply of medicines so there’s no need to stockpile medication. If you have any questions about your medication, ask your hospital team or your pharmacist.

Why does advice on coronavirus keep changing for people with cancer?

Coronavirus is a new infection and so doctors and scientists are still coming to grips with important information about how it spreads, who is most likely to be affected and the best ways to stop it.

Early measures during this pandemic encouraged people with cancer to take general precautions the same as for other types of infections, such as being careful to avoid people with symptoms which could be coronavirus. However it later became known that roughly one in five cases of coronavirus can be infectious for up to two weeks without showing any symptoms of illness.

As a result, advice for these groups has changed from taking usual precautions to the latest guidance for them to isolate from others in their community and reduce contact with family members who could unknowingly bring infections into the home. This approach has become known as ‘cocooning’.

How can I clean surfaces to prevent infection?

Soapy water and kitchen roll works well for many surfaces. There are many different types of wipes that can be used. Cheaper own-brand household cleaners and sprays work fine. You do not need to scrub or clean over-vigorously, just make sure to cover all surfaces that need to be cleaned.  Hazardous chemicals such as bleach should only be used on appropriate surfaces, as instructed on the label.

Do I need to clean my groceries?

Most fruits & veg, bread, meats and other groceries come wrapped. The contents in the wrappers are prepared in a clean environment and so are safe to eat. If you worry that an outside wrapper might be contaminated then simply open it up, throw away the wrapper as normal and wash your hands after. 

Cooking, boiling and baking at appropriate temperatures will kill any traces of virus on foods.

If you are not feeling well

Coronavirus is now in circulation in our community so everyone needs to be alert to symptoms that could be coronavirus. These are: fever (high temperature), coughing or difficulty breathing. Further symptoms are outlined in detail at www.HSE.ie/Coronavirus.

If you do have these symptoms phone your GP or out of hours GP service without delay, and do not attend your GP or hospital emergency department without first having made contact by phone. If you do not have a GP, phone 112 or 999 and tell them about your symptoms, giving details about your situation. Avoid contact with other people by self-isolating until you receive advice from a doctor.

If you are feeling well

Continue following advice on how to protect yourself from coronavirus and other infections such as flu. Avoid spending time with people who are ill with a cough, high temperature, or breathing problems. For up to date advice on coronavirus, visit https://www.hse.ie/coronavirus

More information

Information for cancer patients their families and carers can be found on https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/5/cancer/news/covid-19.html.

For further information please see: https://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/respiratory/coronavirus/novelcoronavirus/frequentlyaskedquestions/ 

For advice on work, education and travel visit the Citizens Information website: https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/health/covid19_overview.html#l97a70

For details on global travel information please see. https://www.dfa.ie/travel/travel-advice/coronavirus/ or download the Department’s Travelwise app https://www.dfa.ie/travelwise/  

Further useful information sources: 




Please note the information on this page is for general guidance. All of the detail is derived from national and international guidance. The information is not intended to replace the individual support of a medical professional. There are many different types of cancer, treatments and complications. This information is a general guide and certain forms of cancer or treatment may require more specialist guidance from a doctor.

Contact the Irish Cancer Society Support Line

If you or someone in your life is undergoing cancer treatment and are concerned about the coronavirus, you can speak confidentially to an Irish Cancer Society Cancer Nurse through the Freephone Support Line on 1800 200 700.

Monday to Friday: 9.00am - 5.00pm

Cancer and coronavirus poster
Cancer and coronavirus poster
Cancer and coronavirus helpline poster showing details about the nurseline
Cancer and coronavirus -what you should know
Cancer and Coronavirus - What You Should Know
A fold out leaflet detailing what you should know about cancer and coronavirus
Polish COVID leaflet
Koronawirus (COVID-19) i choroby nowotworowe
Our Polish-language version of our Cancer and Coronavirus - What You Should Know leaflet
Irish COVID leaflet
Irish COVID leaflet
Our Irish-language version of our Cancer and Coronavirus - What You Should Know leaflet