COVID-19 and Cancer

Cancer tends to thrive in an inflamed body. Strategies that minimize inflammation to reduce cancer risk may also reduce risks of severe COVID-19.1

Not all people with cancer are at increased risk of a serious case of COVID-19. However, for those who are, even mild symptoms warrant medical attention. “People with cancer often have weakened immune systems. This is referred to as being immunocompromised. This is usually due to treatment for their cancer, such as a bone marrow transplant for blood cancer or intensive chemotherapy for certain types of leukemia.

Not all people with cancer are at increased risk of a serious case of COVID-19.

People can also become immunocompromised from intense radiation therapy or surgery. Having a weak immune system makes it harder for the body to fight off diseases, so it’s important for people with cancer and their family members to closely follow steps to protect themselves, especially when it comes to frequent handwashing and physical distancing. We recommend you speak with your doctor if you have concerns about your risk for COVID-19 being higher as a result of current or past cancer treatment.”2

Cancer Care during the Pandemic

Global experts led by the European Society for Medical Oncology have reached consensus regarding cancer care at this time. Highlights of their 28 recommendations include these:

  1. Telehealth and digital health can be an excellent tool in many areas of oncology and primary care.
  2. Prophylaxis using low molecular weight heparin or novel oral anticoagulants (NOACs) is recommended in patients with cancer and COVID-19 infection.
  3. Cancer treatment should not be discontinued or delayed if it can affect overall survival. Special consideration is given for treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs), with high-dose steroids, or with tyrosine kinase inhibitors.
  4. Specific recommendations are provided for curative therapies for patients with breast, lung and rectal cancers.
  5. Stop labeling all patients with cancer as vulnerable to infection with the virus as it can lead to inappropriate care with potential negative outcomes.

A review and meta-analysis in late 2020 confirmed that delaying cancer treatment increases the risk of dying.3 Acquiring COVID-19 can also have serious impacts on cancer treatment.4

See news, research and other guidance specific to cancer patients in the More Information section below.

Written by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS, and Nancy Hepp, MS; most recent update on April 21, 2021.