Coronavirus and cancer – guidance for young people aged 19+

Getting your head around cancer is difficult. Add to that the challenges of coronavirus and suddenly you’ve got a whole lot more guidance to get to grips with. We’ve reviewed the Government advice to help you understand what it means for young adults with cancer.

Update: 19 July 2021

Although most legal restrictions have been lifted at step 4, and many people have been vaccinated, it is still possible to catch and spread COVID-19, even if you are fully vaccinated, and we are still in the third wave of this pandemic in the UK.

While many restrictions are lifting for the general public and some things like face coverings are moving from mandatory to recommended, we know that for people with a cancer diagnosis and family members, there are additional things to think about. It is still recommended that we limit the close contact we have with people outside our households, meet outside where possible, and wear face coverings in crowded places like on trains or buses, but not everyone is choosing to follow these general recommendations.

We understand that this could be a really worrying time for people with cancer. We’ve written this page to help you understand the latest guidance and stay safe.

Cancer and avoiding infection

Before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19 or terms like ‘shielding’ or ‘extremely clinically vulnerable’, people with cancer whose immune systems were affected (lowered) by cancer treatments always had to take steps to reduce their risks of catching bacterial and viral infections. We are now at the stage where you will be returning to ‘normal’ cancer care and infection prevention, which is a higher level of infection prevention and awareness than the general public may have.

Following these steps will help you avoid infection:

  • Regular and thorough handwashing
  • Limiting contact with anyone who has obvious signs of infections (such as coughs, colds, diarrhoea and vomiting, fevers, skin infections, chicken pox, measles, or unwell with unknown cause)
  • Maintaining good standards of general health through hygiene, eating a healthy diet, keeping well hydrated and getting enough sleep and exercise
  • Contacting your cancer team for advice if you feel unwell especially if you have a fever
  • Avoiding very crowded places and close contact with non-family members when your blood counts are extremely low (defined by your local cancer team)
  • Considering how to minimise infection risks with sexual partners (ask your clinical team for advice).

And because of the ongoing presence of coronavirus:

  • Follow government recommendations on wearing face coverings, meeting outdoors when possible or in well ventilated indoor spaces, and follow guidance on vaccination and testing
  • Your local hospitals and healthcare providers may continue to have local rules on COVID-19 testing, social distancing, visiting and face coverings. See our #Hand2Hold campaign for information on your rights to visitors
  • You may want to consider asking visitors to your home to wear face coverings or to take a lateral flow test before visiting
  • As a general guide, most people take about 6-12 months to recover a more normal immune system after cancer treatment ends and about 12-24 months after a bone marrow transplant. However, there are individual and treatment related variations, and your cancer team will give you guidance specific to you, including how long you need to take extra precautions for.

As a general guide, most people take about 6-12 months to recover a more normal immune system after cancer treatment ends, and about 12-24 months after a bone marrow transplant. However, there are individual and treatment related variations, and your cancer team will give you guidance specific to you, including how long you need to take extra precautions for.

Government guidance

Advice for young people with cancer

With restrictions lifting across the UK, it can be difficult to know if you should be taking extra precautions. If you’re unsure, make sure you talk to your clinical team – they know your individual circumstances and will advise on what is right for you.

Whether you’re in the clinically extremely vulnerable group or not, if you’re undergoing cancer treatment you are still likely to be advised to take extra precautions to protect you from all types of infections, not just COVID-19. If your immune system is severely affected (lowered) by your cancer treatment your local clinical team may still advise you to avoid crowds, not attend university, college or work, and distance yourself if household members are unwell with things like flu, diarrhoea and vomiting, chickenpox, shingles or cold sores, and certainly if they have any COVID-19 symptoms.