Staying Well During COVID-19

A Guide for Cancer Patients and Their Caregivers and Family Members

Cancer patients and survivors may have a higher risk of getting COVID-19 and other infections. They, and people who live with and take care of them, should take steps to protect their health.

Cancer Patients and Survivors

COVID-19: Are You at Higher Risk for Severe Illness?

If you are one of the people at increased risk for serious COVID-19 illness, it’s especially important for you to take action to reduce the risk of getting COVID-19. This video explains who is at increased risk and offers tips to help you avoid getting sick.

If you have cancer now or had cancer in the past, you may need to take special steps to protect your health. This is especially important for cancer patients who are being treated with chemotherapy. They are more likely to get an infection because chemotherapy can weaken their immune system. For the same reason, the infection may be more serious for them.

  • Get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines (shots) help protect against the virus that causes COVID-19, including the Delta variant.
  • If you’re already vaccinated, talk to your doctor about getting an additional shot. CDC recommends that people with moderately or severely weakened immune systems, including those being treated for cancer, get one more vaccine dose after receiving the two-shot vaccine.
  • Know the signs and symptoms of infection. Infection during chemotherapy can lead to hospitalization or death. Call your doctor right away if you notice any of the signs and symptoms of an infection.
  • Watch out for fever. Take your temperature any time you feel warm, flushed, chilled, or not well. Call your doctor right away if you have a temperature of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher.
  • Take additional steps to protect your health. If you’re receiving chemotherapy or another medicine that weakens your immune system, the vaccine may not fully protect you from COVID-19.

Take these steps to help avoid getting an infection—

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask that fits well when around others, and ask them to do the same.
  • Wash your hands often. Many diseases are spread by not cleaning your hands, which is especially dangerous when you’re getting chemotherapy treatment.
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces. Avoid indoor spaces that don’t offer fresh air from the outdoors as much as you can. Bring in fresh air by opening windows and doors, if possible.
  • Stay 6 feet away from others. It’s important to keep a distance from those in your home who may be sick, and from anyone who doesn’t live with you.

More Tips

  • Ask your doctor about getting extra necessary medications to have on hand in case you need to stay home for a long time.
  • Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines to treat fever and other symptoms in case you get sick.
  • Call your doctor’s office a few days before an appointment to make sure the doctor can still see you at that time.
  • If you have cancer that is responding well to treatment, talk to your doctor about your chemotherapy schedule. Only consider delaying treatments after talking to your doctor.

If You Get Sick

If you get a fever or other symptoms of an infection, take these important steps right away—

  • Call before going to the doctor. Before going to a doctor or hospital, call and tell them your symptoms, especially if you have a fever. Be sure to tell them if you’re getting chemotherapy.
  • Separate yourself from others. Try to stay in one room and away from other people in your home. Use a separate bathroom if one is available.
  • Avoid sharing personal items. Don’t share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, utensils, towels, or bedding with others. After using these items, wash them thoroughly.

Caregivers, Family Members, and Others

African American man wearing a face mask showing a bandage on his shoulder after getting a COVID-19 vaccine

Take steps to keep yourself healthy to lower the chance of passing COVID-19 to the person who has cancer.

If you live with or take care of someone who has cancer, it’s important for you to take steps to keep yourself healthy. If you get COVID-19, you could pass it to the person who has cancer.

  • Get vaccinated. COVID-19 vaccines reduce your risk of getting COVID-19 and spreading it to others.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. You can cough or sneeze into your mask. If you’re not wearing a mask, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow and do not spit. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after coughing or sneezing.
  • Be sure everyone in the home who is 12 years old or older is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • Watch for symptoms of infection in the person with cancer, such as a fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, cough, or shortness of breath.
Page last reviewed: August 31, 2021