Caring for someone with cancer has become even more serious because of the coronavirus pandemic. The person you care for may be at high risk of infection with COVID-19 because cancer and cancer treatments often weaken their immune systems. You may be at higher risk yourself if you are older or have an underlying health condition. Staying healthy protects you and the person you’re caring for. That means taking extra steps to keep both of you from getting sick.
People with certain cancer types, including lymphomas, multiple myeloma, and most types of leukemia are at the highest risk for infections. These cancers cause changes that make the immune system unable to work as well as it should. People who have recently had surgery for cancer and those in active treatment who are getting chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy may also be at higher risk. Some treatments, such as stem cell or bone marrow transplants, involve giving high doses of drugs that may cause long-term weakening of the immune system. But most people who have finished treatment (especially if it was years ago) probably have an immune system that’s back to normal.
If you aren’t sure whether the person you’re caring for has a weakened immune system, ask their health care team. It’s also a good idea to find out if their insurance covers telehealth, and if the cancer care team is using it to help communicate with patients during this time.
Have a back-up plan ready in case you, the person you’re caring for, or someone else in the household gets sick.
Stay home as much as you can and have contact with as few people as possible. Stay in touch with the cancer care team and be ready for possible changes to treatment plans. Read our list of questions you may want to ask.
Take these extra steps to protect yourself and the person you’re caring for:
If you find out you’ve been exposed to coronavirus, notify your doctor and the cancer care team of the person you’re caring for right away. They will help guide you in your next steps.
If you or the person you’re caring for has symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor and the cancer care team and let them help you. The most common symptoms that need medical attention are fever, cough, and feeling short of breath. Some people may also have diarrhea or nausea before these other symptoms occur.
Some symptoms are more serious and mean you need to get help right away. If you notice the following symptoms in either yourself or the person you’re caring for and feel you need to go to an emergency room, call the doctor or 911 first. This way you, the person you’re caring for, the first responders, the medical staff, and other people in the emergency room can be protected. Serious signs and symptoms of COVID-19 include:
If anyone in the household gets sick with mild symptoms and the doctor tells them to stay at home, follow the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Almost everyone has some risk of getting sick from the coronavirus. But staying informed and having healthy habits can help. This goes for you as well as the person you’re caring for.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.