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Coronavirus and blood cancer

This is our latest guidance about coronavirus and blood cancer.

For more information, visit our main coronavirus page to see the latest updates, learn more about what coronavirus is, or read about how to look after yourself if you are shielding.

Last updated: 3 April 2020

As COVID-19 is a new virus in humans, we don't currently know if there are differences in the way it affects people with leukaemia compared with other blood cancers. Therefore, we are offering the same information to everybody living with a blood cancer. 

For information about the specific cancer you have, please read our health information about leukaemia, including symptoms and diagnosis, treatment and side effects, and living with leukaemia. 

As COVID-19 is a new virus in humans, we don't currently know if there are differences in the way it affects people with lymphoma compared with other blood cancers. Therefore, we are offering the same information to everybody living with a blood cancer. 

For information about the specific cancer you have, please read our health information about lymphoma, including symptoms and diagnosis, treatment and side effects, and living with lymphoma. 

As COVID-19 is a new virus in humans, we don't currently know if there are differences in the way it affects people with myeloma compared with other blood cancers. Therefore, we are offering the same information to everybody living with a blood cancer. 

For information about myeloma, please read our health information about myeloma, including symptoms and diagnosis, treatment and side effects, and living with myeloma. 

As COVID-19 is a new virus in humans, we don't currently know if there are differences in the way it affects people with different types of blood cancer. Therefore, we are offering the same information to everybody living with a blood cancer. 

For information about the specific cancer you have, please visit our blood cancer information pages and select a type of blood cancer.

Am I at a higher risk from coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Last updated: 3 April 2020

This information is relevant for you wherever you live in the UK. Across the UK, people who are identified by the NHS as being at a higher risk from coronavirus are being contacted directly by letter or text.

Adults and children with blood cancer may have a compromised immune system and therefore be at a higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus.

If any of the following apply to you, you should be contacted directly by the NHS about how to protect yourself:

  • you currently have any type of blood cancer, whether you are having treatment or not (for remission, see below)
  • you have had an autologous transplant (using your own stem cells) in the last year
  • you have had an allogeneic transplant (using donor stem cells) in the last two years
  • you are on immunosuppression medication after a transplant, you have GvHD, or you have ongoing immunodeficiency after a transplant

If you fall into any of these categories, you should be contacted directly by the NHS to tell you what measures you should take to protect yourself. This will include staying at home (shielding yourself) for 12 weeks.

If you think you should have received a letter and you haven't, contact your hospital team or GP.

If you’re not sure whether you have a compromised immune system, check with your healthcare team.

If you have received a letter but you don't think you fall into any of the groups above, this may be because you have another condition that puts you at a higher risk, or it may be because your hospital team or GP believes you could still be at a higher risk. Speak to your hospital team or GP if you are unsure why you've received this letter.

The guidelines above are the same for children and adults. So if any of the bullet points above apply to your child, they should also stay at home (shield themselves) for 12 weeks. This includes not attending school. CCLG have more detailed advice for children who are currently undergoing treatment.

There are certain groups of patients, such as people with CML taking TKIs, and people with MPNs, where it’s not so clear how high-risk they are. For some people, their condition or treatment doesn’t normally affect their immune system in a clinically significant way. For others, the condition or treatment does affect the immune system. In order to minimise risk, and because coronavirus is a new virus, the NHS at a national level does include all of these patients in the high-risk group outlined above. However, everyone’s condition is different. You should speak to your healthcare team to find out the most appropriate advice for you. They are best placed to advise you on your individual level of risk and measures you should take.

If you have a pre-cancerous condition such as MGUS, solitary plasmacytoma or monoclonal b-cell lymphocytosis, then you are not automatically included in the higher risk group outlined above. However, if you’ve received a letter, you should follow its advice. You may have received it because your hospital team or GP believes you could still be at a higher risk, or because you have another condition that puts you at risk. If you have not received a letter, we recommend you speak to your healthcare team as soon as possible to find out what you should do to protect yourself. In the mean time, you should carefully follow the general advice on social distancing.

If you have any questions about your letter from the NHS, speak to your healthcare team - they can give you personalised advice.

I am in remission - am I at risk?

Last updated: 3 April 2020

If you have myeloma and are in remission, you could still have a compromised immune system. You would be included in the criteria above as someone who "currently has any type of blood cancer, whether you are having active treatment or not." Therefore you should follow the advice on staying at home (shielding yourself) for 12 weeks.

If you're in remission from any other blood cancer, the length of time it takes for your immune system to recover after cancer and its treatment varies depending on the type of cancer, the treatment given and the individual. There is no specific time frame. Generally, it takes a few months to a year to recover. Many people’s immune system recovers to a normal level after treatment. However, we have also spoken to people who say they pick up infections more easily over a year after treatment. The advice to everyone in the UK at the moment is to socially distance themselves. Follow this advice to reduce your risk. If you fall into any of the higher risk groups outlined above, you should receive additional advice directly from the NHS. If you are worried about your immunity, speak to your healthcare team if possible or contact us to talk it over.

Some people who don't consider themselves as being in a higher risk groups above may also receive a letter from the NHS - this may be because they have another condition that places them at high risk, or because their GP or hospital team believes they could still be at risk. If you are unsure about the advice given in your letter, contact your hospital team or GP - they can give you personalised advice.

Your healthcare team are still there for you

Last updated: 3 April 2020

While it’s true that doctors and nurses are very busy responding to coronavirus, and you may see changes to your appointments or the way you contact your team, they are still there for you. Your healthcare team want to hear from you if you have worries, questions, or your symptoms change – keeping you well is a priority.

How can I reduce my risk of catching coronavirus?

Last updated: 3 April 2020

If you have any type of blood cancer, or are otherwise at a higher risk from coronavirus (see above), we advise that you stay at home for the next 12 weeks. Children with blood cancer should do the same. This is known as "shielding" and means keeping you apart from the general population. This is to reduce the risk of you catching coronavirus as much as possible, as it could have a more serious effect on you.

Other people that live with you, including adults and children, should follow strict advice to protect you within the home. If these measures aren't possible, they should also shield with you and stay at home for the next 12 weeks. Read more about this on our Staying at home page.

If you are not in one of the higher risk groups, you should follow the government advice on social distancing for everyone in the UK.

Will coronavirus affect my treatment plan?

Last updated: 3 April 2020

It is possible that some clinics and appointments will be cancelled or postponed. Your hospital or clinic will contact you if any changes need to be made to your care or treatment. They may try to do more consultations by telephone to avoid you visiting the hospital.

It seems likely that the coronavirus crisis will have an effect on treatment for blood cancer, but it’s too early to have a clear sense of the extent of the disruption and what it will mean for people with blood cancer. We are working with the NHS to do what we can to support it, as it tries to keep the disruption as minimal as possible.

Continuing with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is still a priority for the NHS. Essential and urgent cancer treatments should continue. Sometimes, the way treatment is given or the way patients are monitored may be altered, to ensure treatments can still go ahead and to reduce any risks. Sometimes, it may be necessary for doctors to discuss with patients the risk of having treatment at this time compared with the risk of delaying or changing treatment.

Your treatment team will contact you if there is a disruption to your treatment plan. They will work to determine the best course of action in each individual situation. If you have any concerns you’d like to talk through, you should contact your treatment team by email or telephone.

Anthony Nolan have more detailed information on how upcoming stem cell transplants may be affected.

Should I still go to hospital for blood tests or treatment?

Last updated: 3 April 2020

If you have an upcoming appointment at hospital, contact your hospital team to find out whether you should still go.

Will coronavirus affect drug and medicine supplies?

Last updated: 24 March 2020

The NHS has been looking at its supply chains to ensure a secure supply of necessary drugs. There are processes in place to manage the supply of medicines in the UK. Currently there are no shortages linked to coronavirus and the government is working with the industry on measures to protect UK patients. As a precaution, companies have been asked to keep the stockpiles they already had in preparation for Brexit. Gov.uk has a web page about medicine supply.  

At the moment, no drug manufacturers have said they expect problems with supply due to coronavirus. We have spoken directly with the manufacturer of venetoclax, a blood cancer drug that’s made in China, and they have said they do not anticipate any supply disruptions.

How will coronavirus affect clinical trials?

Last updated: 3 April 2020

For people already receiving treatment as part of a clinical trial, the plan will be to continue treatment wherever possible. Speak to your treatment team if you have questions.

Opening new trials or recruiting new patients to trials has stopped in many areas. Patients on clinical trials need close monitoring at hospital and this may not be possible during a pandemic. In addition, resource is being directed towards researching treatments for coronavirus and looking after those who get coronavirus.

We are currently working with the blood cancer research community to understand what might help blood cancer research to continue during this time, and where we might help.

Information about social distancing, self-isolation and shielding

Last updated: 3 April 2020

Across the UK, the government has said:

  • everyone should take part in social distancing
  • people who are displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) should self-isolate
  • people with blood cancer should 'shield' themselves and stay at home for twelve weeks.

Our page on Staying at home explains the differences between social distancing, self-isolation and shielding, and how to look after yourself during this time.

General information on cancer and coronavirus

Last updated: 24 March 2020

While this page gives information specific to blood cancer, we have also worked with a group of cancer charities and the NHS to answer some commonly asked questions about coronavirus and cancer. You can see the document published by One Cancer Voice here:

One Cancer Voice is a group of cancer charities working together to provide consistent advice.

Support for you

Call our free and confidential helpline on 0808 2080 888 from Monday to Friday, 10am to 7pm, and Saturday to Sunday, 10am to 1pm.

We are currently receiving a very high volume of calls related to coronavirus, so if you're not able to get through straight away, please leave a message and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

You can also email us if you prefer to get in contact that way. We'll usually get back to you within two working days, but due to the current rate of calls and emails we are currently receiving it may take us longer.

Talk to other people with blood cancer on our Online Community Forum – there is a group for coronavirus questions and support.

The following companies have provided funding for our coronavirus support, but have had no further input: AbbVie, AstraZeneca, Celgene, Gilead, Janssen, Kyowa Kirin, Pfizer, Takeda.

Keep updated about coronavirus and blood cancer

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