COVID-19 Risks When You Have Cancer

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 04, 2022

If you have cancer, you may wonder how the coronavirus (COVID-19) can affect you and your treatment.

Here’s what you should know.

Infection and Your Immune System

When you have cancer, you have a higher chance of getting infections. Many cancers change how well your immune system works. In some cases, it’s not the disease but the treatment that affects your defenses. Even if you're a cancer survivor, your immune system still might not be able to fight germs like it should.

Sometimes, cancers can affect specific organs like your lungs or kidneys. When your organs aren’t working well, your body has a harder time fighting germs and infections.

Most people who get sick with Covid will have mild to moderate symptoms. But if you have cancer and get COVID-19, your illness can be more serious.

COVID-19 and Your Cancer Treatment

Some cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, can have an impact on your immune system. They can lower the number of white cells you have and how they work. That can make it easier for germs to enter your body and for infections to take hold.

If the COVID risk is high in your area, your doctor may talk to you about whether you should continue your cancer treatment or wait until the impact of the virus eases. You might be able to delay treatment for a while. That will allow you to stay home instead of going into the doctor’s office or treatment facility.

But in some cases, your doctor might think it’s critical that you continue treatment.

If you haven’t started treatment, your doctor will talk to you about your safest next steps. Your health care team will consider the stage and type of your cancer, as well as safety concerns, before they decide whether or not you should begin your plan.

If you're taking part in a clinical trial, check to see if it is continuing. It could be on hold.

How to Protect Yourself

When you have cancer, it’s especially important you take steps to stay healthy. When the COVID risk is moderate to high in your area, here's what you should do:

  • Only leave home when absolutely necessary.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • When you’re around people, leave at least 6 feet between yourself and them.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces you touch often, like counters, doorknobs, light switches, phones, and sinks.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • If possible, stock up on several weeks of medications and key supplies.
  • If you have to go out in public, wear a face mask.

Stay in Touch With Your Doctor

Even if your treatment is over or on hold, it’s important that you stay in contact with your health care team. You can schedule telemedicine visits if you need them so you don’t have to go into the office.

Know the symptoms of COVID-19 so you can reach out if you think you might be sick. Symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

If you have cancer, you might not have a fever when you’re sick if the treatments you're taking affect your immune system.

If you think you might be sick, reach out to whichever doctor you see most often. They’ll ask you questions about your symptoms and your exposure. Once they get those answers, they'll let you know if you should get a COVID-19 test. If it’s possible you might have the illness, you might have to stay home until your symptoms get better. If they get worse, call your doctor.

Show Sources


American Cancer Society: “Common Questions About the New Coronavirus Outbreak,” “Why People With Cancer Are More Likely to Get Infections.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Cancer and COVID-19: What You Should Know About Increased Risk.”

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

UpToDate: “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Cancer care during the pandemic.”

CDC: “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) People Who Need Extra Precautions,” “Symptoms of Coronavirus.”

American Society of Clinical Oncology: “Coronavirus and COVID-19: What People With Cancer Need to Know.”

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