COVID-19 and cancer

The constant news about the coronavirus can be worrying. People with cancer and their families might feel especially worried about the virus, as cancer and its treatment can lower your ability to fight infection.

What is coronavirus?
The coronavirus is a flu-like virus. It causes an illness called COVID-19 which can affect your lungs and airways. For most people, the virus won’t cause serious problems. But for some people, the virus can have serious complications.

People with cancer are among those at higher risk of complications. This is because cancer and treatment can weaken their immune systems.

How can cancer and treatment weaken immunity?
The immune system protects the body against illness and infection caused by viruses like coronavirus. Some people with cancer have a weak immune system which reduces their ability to fight these infections.

This is because some treatments, like chemotherapy, can stop the bone marrow from making enough white blood cells. White blood cells are part of your immune system. This is most likely to happen during a course of cancer treatment, but the effects can last for some time afterwards.

Some types of cancer can also lower your ability to fight infection. This is usually cancer that affects your immune system like leukaemia or lymphoma.

When your ability to fight infection is lowered the symptoms of any infection can be much more severe and may become dangerous.

What’s the advice for people with cancer?
Talk to your cancer team if you have any questions or worries about the coronavirus.

It’s especially important that you follow NHS advice to reduce your risk of catching the coronavirus if you:

are having or recently had cancer treatment
have a type of cancer that lowers your immunity
Read the NHS advice here
You should also follow the NHS advice if your relative or friend is having or has recently had cancer treatment. Or if, for any reason, a relative or friend might have a lower ability to fight infection.

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