Cancer and COVID-19
Find answers to common questions about living with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic
Questions about cancer and COVID-19
From the National Cancer Institute (NCI)
The questions and answers below were originally published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the US government’s main agency for cancer research.
Information about the COVID-19 pandemic is always changing. Ask your doctor any questions you have about COVID-19 and how it may affect you and your treatment.
What is coronavirus, or COVID-19?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different
species of animals. SARS-CoV-2 is a novel (new) coronavirus that has caused a pandemic of
respiratory disease named coronavirus disease 2019, which is abbreviated COVID-19.
If I have cancer, am I at higher risk of getting COVID-19?
Because SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus, anyone who is exposed to it is at risk of becoming infected
and developing COVID-19. Having cancer increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
Other factors also increase your risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including older age and
other medical conditions, such as:
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- a weakened immune system from an organ transplantation
- sickle cell disease
- type 2 diabetes
I am a cancer survivor. Am I at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19?
At this time, it is not known whether having a history of cancer increases your risk for severe
illness from COVID-19. People who have been treated for cancer in the past may want to discuss
their concerns about COVID-19 with their doctors.
What are other ways that I can protect myself?
Until vaccines become widely available, the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid
being exposed to the virus that causes it. According to CDC, the best way to avoid exposure is to
limit in-person interactions with other people as much as possible.
CDC also recommends the following actions to help people at high risk for developing serious
illness from COVID-19 stay healthy:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to
the bathroom; before eating; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; and before and
after coming in contact with others
- Stay home as much as possible
- Make sure you have access to several weeks of medication and supplies in case you need to
stay home for prolonged periods of time
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, including doorknobs, lightswitches,
keyboards, countertops, phones, handles, faucets, sinks, and toilets
If you must interact with others:
- Stay at least 6 feet away from other people
- Avoid crowded places
- Wear a mask; be careful not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth when removing it; and wash
your hands as soon as possible after touching or removing your mask
I receive cancer treatment at a medical facility. What should I do about getting treatment?
If you are receiving treatment for cancer, you should follow your health care provider’s guidance.
Doctors treating patients with cancer may have changed when and how cancer treatment and
follow-up visits are carried out.
Some cancer treatments can be safely delayed, whereas others cannot. Some routine follow-up
visits may be safely delayed or conducted through telemedicine. If you take oral cancer drugs,
you may be able to have prescribed treatments sent directly to you, so you don’t have to go to a
pharmacy. A hospital or other medical facility may ask you to go to a specific clinic, away from
those treating people sick with coronavirus.
The coronavirus situation is still changing, with states and cities making changes in how they
are handling quarantine and critical health care, so check with your provider as needed.
I participate in a clinical trial at a medical facility. What should I do?
If you are in a cancer treatment clinical trial, please call your clinical trial research team and
follow their guidance.
Physicians and scientists at NCI have worked with doctors and health care staff who carry out
NCI-sponsored clinical trials across the United States and in Canada to implement specific
measures within our clinical trials networks to address the current challenges of providing care
to patients enrolled in clinical trials. The health of each clinical trial participant is the institute’s
most important concern, and NCI is flexible about how clinical trial treatments can be completed
and when tests and assessments must be done.
The Institutional Review Boards that oversee each protocol to ensure the safety of patients is
working with investigators to make changes that will provide flexibility while maintaining patient
What should I do if I have symptoms of an infection?
If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of an infection, isolate
yourself from others and call your health care provider. You may need to get tested for
This is a stressful time. How do I cope?
Coping with cancer in the face of the coronavirus can bring up a wide range of feelings you’re not
used to dealing with. Your doctor may have some resources that can help you cope through your
Telemedicine doctor visits during COVID-19
Since going out in public may raise your chances of getting COVID-19, your doctor may want to switch some of your in-office visits to telemedicine visits. This means you’ll stay home and visit with your doctor using video on a computer, phone, or other device. If you and your doctor decide telemedicine works for your care, they will give details and instructions on how to join a telemedicine visit.
Talk with your doctor about what works best for you and if telemedicine may be an option for some of your visits.