COVID-19 and cancer

Information about COVID-19 is changing rapidly. If you have cancer you might be worried about how it affects you.

We are now moving into a level 4 alert with the virus. This means everyone, except those providing essential services, should be staying in their homes.

Continuing to provide cancer services is a priority. For your safety, the ways you talk to the Cancer Society has now changed as phone, email and online contact are used. 

We know this is a difficult time. We continue to be here for you. Please contact your local Cancer Society (phone or email) or our 0800 phone line on 0800 226 237.

  • People with cancer, including those receiving chemotherapy, should continue their treatment. Talk to your treatment team about your specific risks at your next appointment.
  • Get an influenza vaccine if you can. These are free for over 65-year-olds and most people with cancer.
  • Some treatment recommendations may change but these will be discussed with you.
  • If you have a fever, cough or are short of breath, call your oncology treatment team for specific advice.

Go to Ministry of Health website for the latest information or call our 0800 226 237 Cancer Society information line.

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COVID-19 symptoms

COVID-19 infection is caused by a novel coronavirus. It is from a family of viruses that cause colds and cough illnesses.

• Most people show infections around 5-7 days following exposure, but it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show in some people.

• Common symptoms are fever, cough, and fatigue. Some people also have a sore throat or are breathless. Very few people have runny noses or nasal congestion.

Refer to Ministry of Health information about the virus and its symptoms.

Who is at risk of getting COVID-19

Everyone is at risk of getting this infection. Because this is a new virus, no-one has immunity.

Overseas experience shows us that people with reduced immunity are at higher risk from this virus. This includes people with cancer and those who have recently received chemotherapy or other treatments that weaken the immune system. People in these groups might also be infectious with the virus for longer (‘prolonged virus shedding’).

How to avoid catching COVID-19

COVID-19 infection is spread by contact with respiratory droplets spread in coughs and sneezes. These droplets can be breathed in or can land on surfaces. People who touch those surfaces (including other people’s hands) and then touch their mouth or nose can become infected.

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There are things you can do to protect yourself from getting COVID-19:

• wash your hands often with soap and water or with hand sanitiser for at least 20 seconds

• avoid places where there are a lot of other people and keep more than 1.5 metres away from people with coughs or colds

• clean and disinfect regularly-touched surfaces.

If people have coughs or colds, it is important that you not go to work, school or to social gatherings. You should wear a mask when in public or cover your coughs/sneezes. See Ministry of Health advice.

When to wear a mask

Wearing a mask when you do not have an infection is not advised, even if you have low immunity.

Most people can’t wear masks for long periods and there is a high chance that because the mask is irritating after awhile, that people actually touch their nose, mouth or eyes more when wearing one.

The filtration effectiveness of the mask also decreases once it gets damp (with your breath), so wearing one for hours is not as effective. Masks are best saved for people with coughs or sneezes to protect others, or for healthcare workers who wear them for short periods of time when in close contact with a person with respiratory symptoms.

Is there a vaccine or any medicines, to prevent COVID-19?

There are no vaccines or specific treatments for COVID-19 yet. But it is strongly recommended that you get vaccinated against influenza this year. Dual infections with different viruses are possible and are more likely to cause more serious illness. Please also get a pneumococcal booster if you are due for one – ask your doctor or nurse specialist if these are suitable for you. 

If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or think you have been exposed

If you have not had chemotherapy or immunotherapy treatment or your immune system is not compromised follow these instructions:

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19, or if you have recently travelled to a country with community-spread of the virus, phone the HealthLine team on: 0800 358 5453 (or +64 9 358 5453 if internationally).

Do not go into the hospital, cancer treatment centre, or to your GP without calling ahead.

If you are receiving treatment for cancer (or have recently received treatment)

Your treatment team will give you information about the virus, what to do if you feel unwell, and the steps to take if you do get sick.

• keep attending cancer treatment appointments

• call ahead if you have symptoms

• If you get a fever (temperature of 38°C or above) while on chemotherapy, you should follow the instructions your treatment team has given you for this situation.

Travelling overseas

The SafeTravel website provides travel information for COVID-19. It is advised that all non-essential travel be avoided, especially to any region where there is a high number of cases of COVID-19 in these communities. Be aware that travel insurance does not generally cover COVID-19 or other outbreaks. If you are still considering travel, then seeking advice from a specialist is recommended. There may be a mandatory quarantine period on your return so it is important to have prepared for this.

Shopping online

Countdown has put vulnerable customers first for their online shopping service. This means people going through cancer treatment You will need to fill out an application form first:

More information

 Updated 10am 19 March 2020