Having a diagnosis of cancer can be extremely stressful, but particularly now during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Updated 15 July 2020
As restrictions around Australia relating to the COVID-19 pandemic start to ease, people with cancer and their families may be wondering if you are less at risk of contracting COVID-19 and therefore may be able to relax some of your personal restrictions.
While the number of new cases of COVID-19 has decreased overall in Australia, there is still a risk of community transmission.
People with compromised immune systems or pre-existing medical conditions, including cancer, may be at increased risk of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19) and increased risk of more severe infection.
For people being treated for cancer, especially those who are immunocompromised, and for family members in close contact, it is important that you continue to practice social distancing and good hygiene, and limit family and social contact. Consult your doctor or cancer treatment team if you have any queries about your personal situation.
Whether you have cancer currently, had cancer in the past, or are caring for a loved one with cancer, the situation may be more challenging than usual. Your treatment team and all those working in cancer support and care, are working as hard as we can to make sure that you receive the best treatment and outcomes possible.
Our knowledge about COVID-19 is changing rapidly. If you are receiving cancer treatment that suppresses your immune system and you develop a fever or respiratory symptoms, call your oncologist or a member of your treatment team, as you usually would if you develop a fever while on treatment. Be sure to follow their guidance on actions to take.
Practise good hygiene
Everyone should practice good hygiene and social distancing to protect against infection, including people who have had cancer and family, friends and carers of people at increased risk of getting sick from COVID-19.
Good hygiene and taking care when interacting with other people are the best defences for you and your family against COVID-19. We recommend that you:
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.
- Put used tissues straight into the bin.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet.
- Use alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- CIean and disinfect frequently used surfaces and objects such as mobile phones.
- Stay 1.5 metres away from other people. This is called social distancing.
- Avoid close contact with others, such as touching.
- If you are sick, stay at home and avoid contact with others.
- Avoid contact with people in the community who are unwell.
- Avoid non-essential travel.
For people with cancer
People at increased risk of getting sick from COVID-19, such as people receiving treatment for cancer, and people living with metastatic cancer
As well as practising good hygiene:
- Ensure you have adequate prescription and over-the-counter medications.
- Think about having the chemist deliver your medicines.
- When you need to go out in public, keep space between yourself and others, avoid crowds, stay away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
- For people at increased risk of severe COVID-19 because of older age or chronic illness or if you are having chemotherapy or radiotherapy, physical distancing is most important. If you cannot maintain physical distance, wearing a mask is an important protective measure.
- For people who choose to wear a mask it is important to wear it properly:
- wash or sanitise your hands before putting it on or taking it off
- make sure the mask covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face
- do not touch the front of your mask while wearing or removing it
- do not allow the mask to hang around your neck or under your nose
- do not reuse single use masks; wash and dry reusable masks after use and store in a clean dry place.
For more information:
- Australian Government Advice for people at risk of coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Australian Government Should I wear a face mask in public?
- World Health Organization Q&A: Masks and COVID-19
- World Health Organization Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: When and how to use masks
- The Lung Foundation of Australia has released an FAQ What you need to know about COVID-19
- Breast Cancer Network Australia has answers to some frequently asked questions about COVID-19.
There is no vaccine for COVID-19 yet. However, this year, it is important to have your influenza vaccination as early in the flu season as possible.
Coronavirus Health Information Line
Call this line if you are seeking information on novel coronavirus. The line operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Phone: 1800 020 080
The Cancer Council Helpline
Cancer Council is a free, confidential telephone information and support service run by Cancer Councils in each state and territory. Call if you have a question about cancer, or if you're seeking emotional or practical support.
Phone: 13 11 20
Indigenous and multicultural resources
Links to resources and information for people with cancer, families and carers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and multicultural communities on COVID-19
- Cancer Australia has developed an information resource for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with cancer - Cancer and COVID-19 – what it means for our Mob
- In collaboration with a number of Australian peak bodies and organisations, the Australian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group has released the Australian Information Sheet for Cancer Patients, Families and Carers on COVID-19.
Cancer Council Australia has published ‘Cancer and COVID-19: Information in your language’ information and resource sheets for people with cancer, including translations into other languages
- Chinese (simplified)
- Chinese (traditional)
Phone: 1800 020 080
Non-urgent elective surgeries
On 22 May 2020, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) issued a statement on restoration of elective surgery and hospital activity. The statement can be found here.
Note the temporary suspension of non-urgent elective surgeries does not affect most cancer surgeries, as many of these are considered clinically urgent.
If you have an upcoming cancer surgery, your treatment team will be consulting with you to determine the best course of action for your individual needs.
Victoria – regional and metropolitan, as at 5 August 2020
On 5 August 2020, the Victorian State Government issued a statement on the temporary suspension of non-urgent elective surgery and hospital activity for regional Victoria. The statement can be found here.
The Victorian Government will pause all Category 3 and non-urgent Category 2 elective surgery in regional Victoria to ensure hospitals have the beds, equipment and staff they need to continue the fight against coronavirus. Where possible, Category 3 and non-urgent Category 2 surgery which is already booked should still take place, however that will be at the hospital’s discretion. No new non-urgent surgeries will be booked.
This announcement follows the recent decision to pause all Category 3 and non-urgent Category 2 elective surgery in metropolitan Melbourne and reduce elective surgery lists across public and private hospitals. Category 1 and urgent Category 2 surgeries will continue to take place.
The Victorian Government will lift the temporary suspension on elective surgery across the state as soon as it is safe to do so.
More information and resources
Useful COVID-19 information links
- Current status on COVID-19 in Australia - Department of Health (Australia)
- COVID-19 Consumer messaging kit - HealthDirect’s answers to questions and Coronavirus (COVID-19) symptom checker and COVID -19 Restriction Checker
- Advice for the public about COVID-19- World Health Organization
For more information