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Blood cancer and coronavirus

We're here for you if you want to talk

0808 2080 888

[email protected]

Which adults are at high risk from coronavirus?

This section explains who is classed as being at high risk from coronavirus, what to do if you haven't received a shielding letter yet, and how coronavirus may affect treatment plans.

If you are a healthcare professional, our healthcare professionals pages contain the latest guidance and tools to help you care for your patients and yourself.

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. However, below you can find information on who in the blood cancer community is at high risk and how to reduce your risk.

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. However, below you can find information on who in the blood cancer community is at high risk and how to reduce your risk.

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. However, below you can find information on who in the blood cancer community is at high risk and how to reduce your risk.

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. However, below you can find information on who in the blood cancer community is at high risk and how to reduce your risk.

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

Who is at high risk from coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Last updated: 31 July 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 high risk from coronavirus (clinically extremely vulnerable) should have been contacted directly by letter or text.

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

If any of the following apply to you, you should have been 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, including people on watch and wait (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 have been contacted directly by the NHS to tell you what measures you should take to protect yourself. This means you are on the 'shielding list' and should take extra precautions. Read our information for adults at high risk from coronavirus.

People are still being identified as high risk and can be added to the shielding list. This is important to ensure you take the right precautions and get any support you are entitled to.

If you think you should have received a shielding letter and you haven't, contact your hospital team or GP. They may need to add you to the shielding list.

In some cases, a person's hospital team or doctor may advise that they don't need to shield. This is because hospital teams and doctors are asked to provide more personalised advice to their patients, and some people will be lower risk than others.

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 high risk, or it may be because your hospital team or GP believes you could still be at high risk and should take extra precautions (be on the shielding list). Speak to your hospital team or GP if you are unsure why you've received this letter.

If you are looking for information about children, we have more information about which children are at high risk from coronavirus.

If you are looking for information about risk if you’re in remission, see below.

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 did include all of these patients in the high risk group outlined above. However, everyone’s condition is different, and hospital teams and GPs were asked to review who should be on the shielding list. You should speak to your healthcare team to find out the most appropriate advice for you, and whether you need to be on the shielding list and take extra precautions.

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 high risk group outlined above. However, if you received a letter, you should follow the advice for people at high risk until you speak to your medical team. You may have received it because your hospital team or GP believes you could still be at a high risk, or because you have another condition that puts you at high 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 social distancing advice for people in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

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

Understanding your personal level of risk

The guidelines above are intended to help clinical teams and patients identify who might be at high risk and should consider taking extra precautions.

But everyone is different. There are many things that come into play to affect your own personal level of risk. For help making sense of this, see our information on understanding your level of risk.

I am in remission - am I at high risk?

Last updated: 31 July 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 treatment or not." Therefore you should follow the advice for people at high risk until you've spoken to your medical team for personalised advice.

If you have a chronic blood cancer but are currently in a remission, you could still have a compromised immune system. You would also be included in the criteria above as someone who "currently has any type of blood cancer, whether you are having treatment or not." Unless your hospital team have told you otherwise, you should follow the advice for people at high risk.

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 you as an 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. If you're in any of the groups outlined above, you should have been contacted directly by the NHS about how to protect yourself, meaning you are on the shielding list. If you haven't been contacted, but are worried about your risk, speak to your healthcare team or GP.

If you have finished chemotherapy treatment in the last 3 months, speak to your healthcare team or GP about whether you should be added to the shielding list and take extra precautions. Until you have spoken to your team, follow the advice for people at high risk.

Some people who don't consider themselves as being in a high risk group 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 high risk and should take extra precautions (be on the shielding list). If you are unsure about the advice given in your letter, contact your hospital team or GP - they can give you personalised advice.

For people who are not at high risk, follow the general advice on social distancing for people in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

If you are at high risk

If you have received a letter or text from the NHS about being at high risk, or your healthcare team has advised you to follow shielding guidelines, then read our information for people at high risk.

The information above is a guide about who may be at high risk. But not everyone has the same level of risk. We have more information on understanding your own level of risk.

If you are struggling to get a letter

Contact us on 0808 2080 888 or [email protected]

In England, show your clinical team the letter from the Clinical Director for Cancer in England (see below).

Blood Cancer Medical Information Card

We’ve made this card so you can keep important details like your NHS number and your medical team with you at all times. This could be especially important if you’re admitted to a different hospital for any reason. It should help ensure your usual doctor or hospital team is aware and involved in any discussions about treatment or care.

Blood Cancer Medical Information Card

To use this card:

  1. Download it and fill in your details (you’ll need to open it in Adobe Acrobat Reader)
  2. Print it, or take a photo on your phone and ‘favourite’ it
  3. Tell family and friends where your card is

Download your card here:

Your healthcare team are still there for you

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. We have more information on how treatment and appointments are being affected by coronavirus.

How can I reduce my risk of catching coronavirus?

Last updated: 31 July 2020

Taking extra precautions can reduce the risk of you catching coronavirus. How you choose to do this is a personal decision. If you are taking extra precautions, then other people that live with you may want to do this too. Read more about this in our information for people at high risk.

If you are not in one of the high risk groups, you should follow general social distancing advice for people in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Working with Government on access to shielding letters

On 7 May, Peter Johnson (Clinical Director for Cancer in England) sent out this letter to cancer teams across England. This letter urges cancer teams to continue identifying patients at high risk from coronavirus and urging them to shield. It includes links to how GPs and hospital teams can add patients to the list for a shielding letter. It states that the process for adding patients to this list will continue to be open throughout the COVID-19 incident. The letter also clarifies who is at risk in the blood cancer community, specifically including people with MDS and those being ‘managed expectantly’ (on watch and wait).

In view of the concerns we had from people with blood cancer in Wales, we worked with Angela Burns, a member of the Senedd, to contact the Minister asking about people with CLL and MPNs. We recieved this response, which indicates that some people with CLL and MPN should be included in the shielding guidance:

Tell us about your experience

You can help improve support for people with blood cancer by completing our impact of coronavirus survey. The results will help us understand the impact on people with blood cancer and help us support clinicians and the NHS.

Keep updated about coronavirus and blood cancer

Join our mailing list for key updates about coronavirus for people with blood cancer, what we're doing to help, and ways you can help, including campaigns you may be interested in.

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.

You can also find out what's helping other people affected by blood cancer through coronavirus and beyond in our pages on living well with or after blood cancer.

General information on cancer and coronavirus

Last updated: 4 June 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.

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