Cancer and COVID-19
Information and support regarding cancer and COVID-19
Your cancer community is here for you
We understand that those affected by cancer may be feeling heightened concern about COVID-19, so the cancer community came together to send you a message.
Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination roll out is underway which has raised questions for people affected by cancer.
Both of the available COVID-19 vaccines (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) have passed Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) assessment and approval processes that assess vaccine safety, quality and effectiveness. Moderna has also been approved by the TGA and will likely become available late 2021.
The COVID-19 vaccines have not been studied specifically in patients with cancer. As such, how your immune system responds may be influenced by your general health and your cancer treatment. Some types of cancer and their treatment can increase the risk of catching COVID-19 and of poorer impacts to treatment and recovery. Therefore, vaccination against COVID-19 is highly recommended, as long as you do not have a serious allergy to any components of the vaccine.
Health Direct have developed a COVID-19 Vaccine Side Effect Checker so you can monitor after you have had a vaccination.
Talk to your health care team about getting the vaccination and any concerns you may have.
COVID-19 vaccination booster shot
Following advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), from 11 October, Australians who are severely immunocompromised will be offered the option to receive a third COVID-19 vaccine dose to enhance their protection.
ATAGI has also recommended that people aged 18 years or older who received a third dose due to severe immunocompromise receive a booster (4th) dose four months after their third dose.
Read more here.
If you are unsure about getting a booster vaccine talk to your doctor.
For further information visit Cancer Australia.
Information and support regarding cancer and COVID-19
Cancer Council understands that Australians undergoing cancer treatment, cancer survivors and their families and friends may have questions in relation to the recent outbreak of coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus strain and the illness it causes, COVID-19.
If you have cancer your immune system may not be as strong as it is normally so you may feel concerned about the risks associated with COVID-19.
Generally, people with cancer should continue to follow any specific advice or standard precautions recommended by their health care practitioners to minimise your risk of infection, during and after treatment.
For more information and if you need further assistance call Cancer Council on 13 11 20 for any cancer-related information and support.
If you are experiencing symptoms
If you are currently experiencing symptoms of infection (e.g. fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath) or are aware you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus please contact your treatment team. Where possible obtain advice over the phone rather than attending in person to lower your risk of exposure and to reduce the risk of exposing others.
If you are undergoing cancer treatment
If you are currently undergoing treatment some practical ways to limit your risks of exposure include:
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or if not immediately available use an alcohol-based hand rub. It’s a good idea to carry this with you. It is especially important to wash your hands before eating or drinking.
- Wear a mask to medical appointments, on public transport and when in crowded places. If you do use a mask, a surgical or cloth mask is sufficient.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as this can transfer the virus from surfaces and increase the risk of infection.
- Avoid contact with those who are sick or unwell or have been exposed to the virus or may be at higher risk due to recent travel to a high-risk country.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces (tables, benches, light switches, doorknobs, sinks, toilets, remotes, such as your mobile phone or eating surfaces). Wear gloves (disposable if possible). Clean obvious debris with soap and water. Clean with a 70% alcohol solution or a mix of 4 teaspoons of bleach per litre of water.
- Avoid crowds and crowded areas and avoid unnecessary physical contact, such as shaking hands, hugging or kissing. This is especially important if you are currently having chemotherapy or are post treatments such as bone marrow transplantation.
- Maintain a 1.5 metre physical distance between yourself and others and avoid social habits such as kissing or handshakes.
- Talk to your doctor or member of your treatment team about the times in your treatment when you may be at the highest risk of infection so you can plan your activities accordingly. (Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to boosting the immune system beyond adhering to a healthy lifestyle).
- Call your treatment team to see if you can do you some of your consultations remotely via phone or video call.
- Stay home as much as possible and avoid non-essential travel and avoid public transport if you can.
One way to slow the spread of viruses is by social distancing yourself from others to maintain about 1.5 metre of physical distance. Ways to keep social distance within households, workplaces and schools include:
- stay at home if you are sick
- consider if your social gatherings can be rescheduled or cancelled
- limit food handling and sharing food with others
- promote good hand and cough/sneeze hygiene and provide hand sanitisers to those around you
- clean and disinfect shared high-touch surfaces regularly
- buy more goods and services online to limit your visits to the shops
- increase the amount of fresh air by opening your windows or adjusting the air conditioning
- hold meetings via video conferencing or phone call if possible.
If you do take prescription or over-the-counter medication, make sure you have enough at home or in a safe place that you are able to access. A one month supply is ideal. Some pharmacies are offering renewing prescriptions via phone home delivery. Talk to your local pharmacist.
For family, friends and carers
If you have had contact with a person who could be at an increased risk of having the coronavirus, avoid any contact with the person who is receiving cancer treatment.
Talk to your health care provider about receiving the influenza vaccination as early in the flu season as possible to avoid passing on other infections and increasing the risk that you or your family member or friend will need healthcare.
Encourage family members to get the COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection and transmission.
Maintaining social welfare
Maintaining friendships and relationships can be especially difficult if you need to distance yourself to from others to reduce your risk of infection. Friends and family play an important role in managing your welfare during a difficult and anxious time. Here are some tips for keeping in contact with friends and family:
- If face-to-face contact is not possible try to use video calling tools such as FaceTime or Skype to communicate
- Call friends and family as often as possible and let them know how you’re feeling so they can offer the support you need
- Use group chat tools such as Facebook messenger to keep in touch with many people at once
- Think about whether there are other ways to stay connected while maintaining a social distance. Is there a neighbour you can talk to over the fence?
- Cancer Council’s online community is a place where you can talk to other people who might be in a similar situation to you. Find the online community here.
If you are feeling anxious, have questions or need support, please remember that Cancer Council’s support and information line is available on 13 11 20 during business hours. Our specially trained team can provide emotional support as well as practical tips for minimising the risk of infection during this time.
Download our Cancer & COVID-19 factsheet
Cancer Council has developed a factsheet with important, trusted information to help answer your questions and concerns about cancer and COVID-19.
This is also available in 12 other languages.
Information for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
View resources at canceraustralia.gov.au