Staying Safe When You Have Cancer During COVID-19
People getting cancer treatment may be worried about their risk of getting COVID-19. Your risk of getting sick from an infection can be higher while you are getting cancer treatment. In some cases, your oncology team may change your treatment to lessen this risk. You can take steps to protect yourself from all infections (not just COVID-19). This fact sheet will give you tips for staying healthy. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, please see the Managing COVID-19 fact sheet.
How does COVID-19 make you feel?
For most people, COVID-19 is a mild illness with symptoms that might feel like the flu. People with cancer can have these same symptoms. Symptoms can last for a few days or up to 3 weeks. For some people, the symptoms can become severe and require hospitalization.
Symptoms can include:
- Fever (temperature of 100.4°F / 38.0°C or higher).
- Muscle and body aches.
- Feeling very tired (fatigue).
- Loss of taste or smell.
- Congestion or a runny nose.
- Sore throat.
- Some people experience headaches, nausea, diarrhea/loose stool, or a poor appetite.
We are learning more about the symptoms that occur with this infection and this list may change over time.
How does COVID-19 spread?
COVID-19 is spread through “droplets” containing the virus that are released when someone who is infected sneezes, coughs, talks, yells, or sings.
- These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of people nearby (within about 6 feet).
- The virus can live in the air for up to three hours.
- A person can be exposed by touching a surface that the droplets are on and then touching their nose, mouth, or eyes.
- COVID-19 can spread through the air in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces.
What steps can I take to stay healthy?
- Wash your hands often.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to do this after you’ve been in a public place, and after sneezing, coughing, blowing your nose, or using the bathroom.
- If you do not have access to soap and water, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Be sure to cover all areas of your hands and rub them together until they dry.
- Avoid touching your eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue if you sneeze or cough. Throw the tissue away in a trash bag and wash your hands with soap and water.
- Practice social distancing.
- Avoid close contact with people outside of your immediate household.
- Stay at least 6 feet from other people.
- Try to be outside if you are interacting with other people outside of your immediate household.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick or who has been exposed to the virus.
- Be sure that others in your household also practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet away from others) and frequent hand cleaning
- Disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This can include doorknobs, light switches, sink handles/faucets, phones, keyboards, countertops, etc.
- Stay home if you are sick.
Should I wear a face covering?
- If you are not sick: The CDC recommends wearing a cloth face-covering in public and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially if you cannot follow social distancing measures. For instance, in a grocery store where you will be in closer contact with other people than 6 feet.
- A cloth face covering can be a cotton mask, scarf, bandana, or similar fabric that can be used to cover your nose and mouth.
- Face coverings should not be worn by children under the age of 2, by people with breathing problems or by those who aren’t able to remove their face covering without help from someone else.
- Your mask should fit snuggly around the nose and chin. Avoid large gaps around the side of the face.
- The CDC recommends masks made with 2-3 layers of tightly-woven fabric.
- A scarf or ski mask does not work as a mask to protect you from COVID-19.
- If you are sick with COVID-19 or think you may have it: Avoid going out in public. If you must, you should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle)and when going into a healthcare provider’s office or hospital.
- If you are taking care of another person with COVID-19:Wearing a face-covering is suggested, but it is unclear how protective they are when you are living in the same home as someone with COVID-19. Try to avoid close contact, wash your hands frequently, and disinfect surfaces in your home.
Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I have cancer?
In general, yes, people with cancer in active treatment should receive the COVID-19 vaccine when it is available to them. Talk with your healthcare provider about your specific case, where you are in treatment, and any changes that may need to be considered. Learn more about COVID vaccines and cancer patients here.
When should I call my healthcare team?
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience any of the symptoms listed above. If your provider suspects you may have COVID-19, they will tell you how to get tested. They may be able to care for you over the phone if your symptoms are mild. They may ask you to stay home to avoid infecting others.
Resources for More Information
Considerations for Wearing Cloth Face Coverings
Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home
Daily Life and Going Out
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronavirus (COVID-19). Accessed March 2020 at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html
Harvard Health Publishing. Coronavirus Resource Center. Accessed March 2020 at https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/coronavirus-resource-center
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Managing COVID-19 at Home. Accessed March 2020 at https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/managing-covid-19-home