Blood cancer and coronavirus
Your blood cancer treatment
This page explains how coronavirus may affect blood cancer 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.
Will coronavirus delay my treatment?
Last updated: 20 May
Cancer treatment is still a priority for the NHS. Essential and urgent cancer diagnosis, treatment and care are continuing, and the NHS is planning now for the restoration of all services.
It may be that in some circumstances, healthcare teams will recommend waiting to start or pausing treatment, because the risk of treatment outweighs the benefit of having it.
Many cancer treatments weaken your immune system in the short term, and some in the longer term. This makes it harder for you to fight off infections such as coronavirus. For this reason, it may be safer to delay your treatment. You’ll still have check-ups with your team, but these might be done by phone or video call so you can stay at home.
Your healthcare team’s first concern is your health, and they will discuss their recommendations with you and explain the reasons behind them. If you’re worried about anything to do with your condition or coronavirus, or notice any changes to your health, contact your GP or treatment team. They are still there for you and will make sure your care is managed safely in or out of hospital.
NICE have published rapid guidance on how particular treatments can be managed during coronavirus:
- Delivery of systemic anticancer treatments (such as chemotherapy)
- Delivery of radiotherapy
- Stem cell transplants
- Interim treatment change options during the COVID-19 pandemic
In April, most stem cell transplants were able to go ahead. Some transplants may be delayed where the risk of waiting a few weeks is considered to be low. Anthony Nolan has detailed information on coronavirus and your stem cell transplant.
There is more detail about treatment guidance for specific blood cancers in our healthcare professionals pages about clinical guidance.
Will my treatment change?
Last updated: 20 May
You may find there are some changes to your treatment plan. The aim of these changes is to protect you from coronavirus. There’s no problem with the supply of medicines, or the NHS’s capacity to treat you.
Your treatment plan might change in a number of ways, but this will depend on your individual health and circumstances. Your healthcare team will discuss any changes with you, explain the reasons behind them, and answer any questions you have.
Examples of changes that might happen are:
- Your drugs – The dose or combination of drugs you’re given may be adjusted so the effect on your immune system isn’t as severe.
- How drugs are delivered – You may be given drugs in a different way, for example, as tablets or subcutaneous injections (injections under the skin) rather than by intravenous infusion (drip). This could mean you have your treatment at home, or spend less time at the hospital.
- Shorter or less frequent treatments – You may have treatment over a shorter period of time. Or you may have treatment less often, for example, every six weeks instead of every four weeks. Both these changes could mean you spend less time at the hospital and may be kinder to your immune system.
- Treatment breaks – You may have more time off between rounds of treatment, reducing your time at the hospital.
You’ll be closely monitored by your healthcare team, and any decisions about your treatment will be reviewed if your condition changes.
If I need treatment or monitoring, how will the NHS protect me?
Last updated: 20 May
The NHS has come up with changes to the way they normally work to increase the safety of patients and staff. You may find your hospital uses some or all of these measures:
- Phone appointments – Some appointments might be offered by phone or video call to reduce the number of visits to the hospital.
- Medicine delivery – You may have medicines delivered to your home, or may be able to pick them up from a ‘drive-through’ dispensary.
- Local blood tests – You may have blood tests done at a local clinic instead of at your hospital.
- Arrival times – If you go to hospital for an appointment, you may be asked not to arrive early so waiting areas don’t get overcrowded. If you drive to appointments, you may be asked to wait in your car until you receive a text to come in.
- Change of treatment centre – If your usual hospital is treating coronavirus patients, your treatment may switch to another location.
- No family or friends – You may be asked not to bring anyone with you to appointments. Many people will find this hard, but it’s another important way of protecting people with cancer and NHS staff by limiting person-to-person contact.
Keep going to your medical appointments
It’s essential to keep your appointments, even if you’re at high risk from coronavirus. If you’re worried about your safety, contact your healthcare team. They will be able to give you more information about how you’ll be protected.
What if I need to go into hospital?
Last updated: 12 August
If you need to go to hospital for an appointment or for inpatient treatment (staying overnight or longer), the medical staff will follow NHS guidelines and take every care to limit your risk of exposure to coronavirus. All staff, including non-medical staff, have been briefed to pay scrupulous attention to hygiene, and cleaning has been stepped up.
The NHS has developed a range of measures to protect you if you need hospital treatment or monitoring:
- Cancer hubs – In some areas, cancer hubs (groups of hospitals which only treat people with cancer) have been set up.
- Designated coronavirus areas – In hospitals which are treating people with coronavirus, this is happening in a separate area or wing of the hospital, clearly marked with warning signs, and a separate entrance and exit.
- Designated staff – Staff, including cleaners, don’t move between coronavirus areas and other areas of the hospital.
- Designated areas for vulnerable patients – People whose immune systems are compromised (such as people with blood cancer) are seen in a separate area, away from other patients.
- Single rooms – Where possible, people needing treatment in hospital have it in a single room rather than on an open ward.
- Restrictions on visitors – In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, virtual visits are still preferred. In some hospitals, visiting in person is allowed if booked with the hospital department in advance and is generally limited to 1 visitor at a time. All visitors must wear face coverings, and use hand hygiene and social distancing to limit the spread of infection. Check your hospital's website for more information on their visitor policy.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE) – Staff in any setting (inpatient or outpatient) wear PPE when giving care to someone in the clinically extremely vulnerable group – under NHS guidelines, the minimum is a disposable apron, gloves and surgical mask. From mid June, all staff must wear face masks in all areas of the hospital, whether or not they are giving care.
- Testing of staff and patients – Hospital staff, including those with no symptoms, are being tested more frequently, as are some patients (such as those coming in through emergency, for inpatient care or surgery, or who develop symptoms in hospital). From 8 July, all staff working in specialist cancer units in Scotland will be tested on a weekly basis. In other UK countries, individual NHS trusts are making local decisions about staff testing programmes. If you have any questions about staff testing at your hospital, contact your treatment team.
- People being admitted as inpatients (including for day surgery) may be asked to self-isolate for 14 days prior to coming in, to ensure they don't have symptoms
- People coming in as outpatients will need to be asymptomatic (not have coronavirus symptoms).
- Face masks – Wearing a face mask, even a home-made one, can help to lower the risk of spreading coronavirus, especially if people have no symptoms and don't know they're infectious. All members of the public should wear a face mask when visiting hospital in order to protect others.
How can I get to hospital safely?
If you are at high risk from coronavirus and you need to visit hospital, the best way to travel is by car, ideally on your own or with a member of your household. If that isn't possible, ask a family member or friend if they can drive you - check they have no symptoms of coronavirus and sit in the back of the car on the left.
Your hospital may be able to provide a patient transport service if you are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group - check with your hospital. They will use measures like extra cleaning and PPE (personal protective equipment) to protect you while you travel.
Other organisations may be able to help with transport to hospital appointments, including:
If you are travelling by taxi, ask when booking if there are any special measures in place to protect you, and follow the advice of the driver.
If you have to travel by public transport, try to stay two metres away from other people, or at least face away from them. Try not to touch surfaces and don't touch your face. Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser as soon as you get to your destination. You should also wear a mask or face covering to protect other people. The government has more advice on travelling safely.
What happens if I get coronavirus?
Last updated: 20 May
Treatment for blood cancer tends to weaken the immune system. So if you get coronavirus, your treatment may stop until you’ve had at least one negative coronavirus test. If it’s essential to have treatment to control the cancer, then you’ll carry on having it.
Your healthcare team will follow the NHS guidelines for infection control, such as wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), so they can continue to treat you. They may schedule appointments for people with suspected coronavirus at a particular time of day, to avoid contact with others.
If you experience any new symptoms, you should tell your healthcare team straight away.
If your immune system is weak, then you’re more at risk of a life-threatening condition called neutropenic sepsis. The main symptom of neutropenic sepsis is a high temperature (over 38°C) and it needs to be treated urgently with antibiotics.
If you’re having chemotherapy and feel unwell in any way, contact your local cancer chemotherapy helpline (rather than NHS 111). This will make sure you get the appropriate assessment and care.
If you’re admitted to hospital with suspected coronavirus, tell the hospital staff that you’re having treatment for blood cancer. To help you do this, you can download and use our Blood Cancer Medical Information Card.
Will coronavirus affect drug supplies?
Last updated: 20 May
There are currently no medicine shortages as a result of COVID-19. The NHS and Government have been working closely with industry, looking at supply chains to ensure a secure supply of necessary drugs.
There are processes in place to manage the supply of medicines in the UK and prevent future shortages, even in challenging circumstances.
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 my treatment be affected if I’m on a clinical trial?
Last updated: 20 May
If you are already having treatment as part of a clinical trial, you should be able to continue this treatment if your hospital team think it’s safe. Where trials are still running, they’re using reduced contact, for example, follow-up by telephone or video rather than face-to-face appointments. Speak to your treatment team if you have any questions.
Opening new trials or recruiting new patients to trials has stopped in many areas. People on clinical trials need close monitoring at hospital and this may not be possible during a pandemic. Resources have also been redirected towards trials to improve care for coronavirus patients.
We’re currently working with the blood cancer research community to understand how blood cancer research might continue during this time, and how we can help.
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
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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.
Donate to help beat blood cancer
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.