By Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control

To keep our communities safe and the most vulnerable people healthy, everyone needs to stay at home as much as possible. But patients with cancer and survivors must take extra steps to help maintain their health and safety. This is especially important for patients getting chemotherapy (including immunotherapy) treatment, which can weaken the immune system and lead to more severe infection. Taking precautions is also very important for older adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions or other risk factors. These patient education talking points can help people with cancer, as well as their family members and caregivers, stay healthy while staying home.

How Patients Can Protect Themselves and Others

If a caregiver or household member becomes infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, the patient with cancer is at risk for infection as well. The best way to prevent an illness like COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to it. These talking points can help patients protect themselves and others while they’re at home.

  • Clean your hands often. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with others. Stay at least 6 feet away from other people. If possible, have food and supplies delivered.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or use the inside of your elbow. Throw away used tissues and wash your hands.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face covering when around others. You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you don’t feel sick. Everyone should wear a cloth face covering in public.
  • Watch out for symptoms of infection. These include a cough and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or at least two of these symptoms: fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and new loss of taste or smell. Patients with cancer and survivors should call their doctor right away if they get a fever. 
  • Clean and disinfect daily. Every day, clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched often in your home.
  • Find ways to cope with stress. Take breaks from watching or reading news stories. Make time to unwind and connect with others.

If Patients or Caregivers Get Sick

  • Call before going to the doctor. Tell your doctor your symptoms and let them know if you’re currently on chemotherapy (including immunotherapy).
  • Separate yourself from others. Try to stay in one room and away from other people and pets in your home. Use a separate bathroom if one is available. If you are caring for someone with cancer, immediately separate yourself from the patient and arrange for someone else to provide care. 
  • Avoid sharing personal items like dishes, drinking glasses, utensils, towels, or bedding with others. After using these items, wash them thoroughly.

Prepare for Medical Needs

Patients with cancer may need medicine or special medical equipment.

  • Get extra necessary medications. Plan ahead in case you need to stay at home for a longer period, and ensure you have over-the-counter medicines to treat fever and other symptoms in case you get sick. 
  • Contact your healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand: Consider using mail order for medications. If you have doctors’ appointments scheduled, call them ahead of time to make sure they can still see you. If your cancer is responding well to treatment, talk to your doctor about your chemotherapy schedule, and only consider delaying treatments after consultation with your doctor.

Find more information about COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and check out ONS’s COVID-19 resources page for oncology nurses.