Cancer and COVID-19: What You Should Know About Increased Risk
People diagnosed with cancer are at an increased risk of becoming ill with COVID-19. Learn more about why risk is higher and how to stay safe.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, one thing has been clear: People with a compromised immune system are at increased risk. And this population includes people dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Cancer specialist and Director of Breast Medical Oncology Halle Moore, MD, offers insights about the coronavirus and cancer, and recommendations for how you can stay safe.
A: There are three reasons cancer may raise your risk:
A: We don’t know yet. Reports from China suggest that people with cancer had worse outcomes compared with the general population. But the information doesn’t account for the different types of patients. It is possible they were older, smoked or had other factors that raised their risk for severe complications.
We believe people with active cancer, or those receiving immunosuppressive treatments, have the highest risk. Those who have undergone a bone marrow transplant may be at particularly high risk. Cancer survivors without evidence of active cancer and who aren’t receiving immune-suppressing treatments may have a lower risk.
A: In general, yes, but not always. Cough and shortness of breath are common symptoms of COVID-19 infection and would be expected to be common in cancer patients with the infection as well. But people with cancer may not develop the high fever due to immune-suppressing treatments. So if a person has cancer and develops a cough and other respiratory symptoms, even without a fever, they should contact their provider.
A: They need to take the same precautions and be extra vigilant. Family members or anyone they are exposed to while isolating must also follow the precautions, which are:
A: It is vital for people who have cancer to prioritize healthy habits, such as:
A: Patients need to discuss individual treatment plans with their provider. There are instances where treatments can be delayed, but if doctors deem a treatment necessary, then they will find ways to deliver it safely. Doctors and cancer centers are using innovative approaches, such as:
A: The uncertainty is one of the challenges we’re dealing with — we don’t know if this is going to last for weeks or months. Cancer centers are actively developing guidelines to ensure that we can safely deliver treatments. We won’t withhold treatment from newly diagnosed patients who need it; our patients’ health and safety is our top priority.
Doctors will consider many factors, including the stage and type of cancer (some are slow-growing), to determine the next steps of your care. They’ll also make adjustments they feel are safe. For example, your doctor may delay surgery and instead use a non-immunosuppressive treatment, or choose an oral chemotherapy drug to limit your trips to the cancer center.
Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have. We want you to feel confident and safe in your care.