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COVID-19 Self-Protection With Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 02, 2020

Anyone can get COVID-19, including people with cancer. Whether you're in treatment for cancer now or you were before, you have a greater chance of serious symptoms than people who haven't had cancer.  

That’s because cancer treatments like chemo and bone marrow transplants weaken your immune system. Many type of cancer change how immune cells work, too.

Follow the Rules

There’s a lot you can do to protect yourself and stay healthy: 

Stay home. The best way to avoid germs is not to be around them. Try to only leave home when you absolutely need to. You can:

  • See if you can do some of your cancer-related appointments through telemedicine.
  • Ask a friend or family member to buy and drop off your groceries.
  • You can also buy food, masks, cleaning products, and most anything else you need online.

Got cabin fever? Go for a short walk or a drive.

Talk to your doc. You probably have lots of questions about your care during this pandemic. Ask your doctor if you should:

  • Postpone tests and procedures that aren’t urgent, including cancer surgery
  • Have virtual office visits instead of in-person ones
  • Stop IV chemo treatments for the time being
  • Get tested for COVID-19
  • Go to the ER if you have coronavirus symptoms

Keep away from others. If you have to leave the house for food or treatments like radiation or chemotherapy, keep at least 6 feet away from other people. That’s about two arms’ length. Many stores have markers on the floor so you know where to stand. If you head out for supplies, keep what you want to pick up in mind so you don’t have to check your phone. Try to touch as few things as possible. Make each trip a grab 'n' go.

Wash your hands often. This is the best way to kill the coronavirus and other germs. Scrub them with soap and water the minute you get home, and after you take off a mask, unpack groceries and boxes, or cough or sneeze. Suds up before you cook and eat, too.

Use regular soap and water. Scrub for at least 20 seconds -- about as long as it takes to sing two verses of "Happy Birthday." (Check some online music providers for handwashing playlists). Soap and water are best, but hand sanitizer that contains at least 70% alcohol is a good second choice. And you don’t have to sing.

Stay active. Exercise is a key part of cancer treatment and recovery. It eases pain and fatigue and boosts your mood. It may even help you live longer.

Gyms across the country are staring to reopen, but it’s still best to do your workout at home. Here are some ideas of what to do:

  • Go for a walk or jog.
  • Jump rope.
  • Do sit-ups, push-ups, and air squats.
  • Try yoga or tai chi.
  • Strength train with a resistance band, water bottles, or soup cans.
  • Check out thousands of home exercise videos on YouTube and Instagram.

Of course, talk to your cancer care team before you start any exercise program.

Hands off your face. You likely touch your face dozens of times a day. It’s a hard habit to break, but it’s important to try. The coronavirus enters your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth. If you pick up the virus on your hands and then touch your face, you may become infected.

Mask on. Wear a cloth face covering or mask when you’re in public. You don’t need to wear it at home unless someone you live with is sick or caring for someone who is. Look for a mask with at least two layers of fabric. It should fit over your nose and mouth without any gaps and have ties or loops you can adjust. Another good option? Make your own from an old T-shirt, a sheet, or bandanna. Save N95 and surgical masks for health care workers.

A mask won’t stop you from getting sick. But it might keep you from spreading the virus in case you’re infected and don’t know it.    

Leave gloves off. Experts say it’s best not to wear gloves out in public. Germs may stick to them more than to your skin. They then get on everything you touch. If you feel safer with gloves, be sure to throw them away as soon as you take them off. Never use them a second time.  

Scrub surfaces. The coronavirus sticks around longer on some surfaces than others. To be safe, disinfect things you touch a lot, like doorknobs, light switches, toilets, faucets, refrigerator handles, and countertops frequently. Don’t forget your computer keyboard, phone, and glasses. Use a cleaning spray or wipe that kills most viruses or an FDA-approved disinfectant. If you’re sensitive to smells, ask someone else to clean, if possible. Be sure to open the windows, too.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Cancer Institute: “Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know.”

CDC: “People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness,” “Cleaning and Disinfection for Households.”

American Cancer Society: “Why People with Cancer Are More Likely to Get Infections,” “Expert Panel: Physical Activity Helps Prevent Cancer and May Help Cancer Survivors Live Longer, “Common Questions about the New Coronavirus Outbreak.”

Cancer.net (ASCO): “Coronavirus and COVID-19: What People with Cancer Need to Know.”

LVHN.org: “Cancer Doesn’t Stop During COVID-19 Pandemic.”

World Health Organization: “Mask Guidance.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Coronavirus Face Masks & Protection FAQs.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Why You Shouldn’t Wear Gloves to the Grocery Store.”

MDAnderson.org: “Disinfectants 101: 9 things to know.”

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