What Cancer Patients Should Know About COVID-19

How COVID-19 affects cancer patients and tips to stay safe

Covid-19 and Cancer.

How COVID-19 affects cancer patients and tips to stay safe

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has impacted many aspects of our daily lives — including the care and cancer treatment plans for cancer patients. Below, we take a closer look at COVID-19 as it relates to cancer, ways to protect yourself from its risks and safety precautions being taken at Scripps hospitals, clinics and other facilities.

How COVID-19 puts cancer patients at risk for severe illness

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that include the common cold and more serious respiratory illnesses.


People with COVID-19 may experience a wide-range of symptoms. However, as a cancer patient or a cancer survivor you may be at a higher risk for severe illness due to a weak immune system from cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. That’s why it’s important to take the proper precautions — especially self-quarantining and practicing physical distancing — to avoid exposure to the virus and limit further impacts to your health.

Coronavirus safety tips for cancer patients

With coronavirus continuing to spread, people at higher risk for complications if infected, including cancer patients, must take extra precautions to stay healthy. In addition to following common COVID-19 guidelines, such as not touching your face and washing your hands frequently, cancer patients should also use these safety tips:


  • Ensure 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, light switches, keyboards, countertops, phones, handles, faucets, sinks and toilets.
  • Avoid crowded places if you do need to go out in public.
  •  Stay six feet — or two arm lengths away — from others.
  • Wear a cloth face covering, such as a scarf or bandana, or wear a face mask.


“Following these helpful, vetted guidelines are key for cancer patients and cancer survivors to staying as healthy as they can during this serious public health event,” says Thomas Buchholz, MD, medical director of Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center and a radiation oncologist with Scripps Clinic.

Maintaining cancer treatment plan during pandemic

It’s important for cancer patients to stay connected with their care team and continue their treatment plan during this public health crisis. Cancer patients can use the following guidelines to maintain their care plan while avoiding physical interaction where possible:


  • Work with your care team to set up and attend all scheduled appointments.
  • Use telehealth services where applicable to decrease the number of in-person visits.
  • For in-person visits, pay special attention to signage directing you where to go.
  • Continue all scheduled radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
  • Work with your surgical team to decide the optimal timing of a cancer-related surgery.
  • Stay current on all appropriate vaccinations (seasonal influenza, pneumonia, pertussis and shingles).


Note that COVID-19 symptoms may feel similar to cancer treatment side effects, such as experiencing flu-like symptoms, changes in smell or even shortness of breath with some types of treatment, according to Dr. Buchholz. “That’s why it’s important to stay in contact with your care team if you develop any respiratory symptoms and/or a fever.” More information for high risk individuals can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


“We’re doing everything to ensure our community of cancer patients and their families stay well-informed with patient communications during this time,” says Dr. Buchholz. “Know that your care team is committed to providing you the very best multidisciplinary care and will always have your interests in mind when making decisions due to this crisis.