Senior doctors wrote to Matt Hancock this week calling for him to increase capacity in hospitals for cancer patients over fears that people are going untreated. It came as Cancer Research UK warned 2,300 cancer diagnoses could be missed per week due to coronavirus.
Patients are no doubt worried – here’s what you need to know.
Does having cancer make me more vulnerable to Covid-19?
Some cancers and treatments put people at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract Covid-19. For example, if you are having treatment that weakens your immune system – such as chemo-, radio- and immunotherapy – you could find it harder to fight off coronavirus. If your cancer affects your lungs, throat, bone marrow or other vital organs, you could also be at greater risk. If you fall into a vulnerable category, you are advised to shield – stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact – for at least 12 weeks from March 29. Ask people to leave shopping at your door, and ensure health visitors wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.
Can I still have treatment for cancer?
Doctors are treating cancer patients where possible, but they have had to adapt and prioritise their efforts. Some are being given tablets instead of a drip, while others are being asked to go to dentist surgeries for their chemotherapy. Doctors will weigh up the risks and benefits, such as how strong your immune system is and what stage your cancer has reached. Cancer Research UK has regularly updated advice on its website about how to talk to your doctor about the options.
Who is getting treatment?
The NHS is prioritising patients based on cancer stage, whether it is curable, and how urgent the need for treatment. With chemotherapy, for example, there are six priority levels that assess age, cancer type and survival rate. Your treatment could be delayed if your case is deemed to be low priority. Doctors will have further information for individual patients.