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How will the coronavirus affect people with pancreatic cancer?

This page explains what coronavirus (COVID-19) means for you if you have pancreatic cancer, and how it may affect you. There is information on who may be at risk of becoming more seriously ill if they were to get coronavirus, and information for people who have been shielding – such as people having chemotherapy. There is also information about what social distancing guidance means for people with pancreatic cancer, and support bubbles and extended households

The information here is based on the national guidance across the UK. If you live in an area where there is a local coronavirus outbreak, check what the guidance is for you locally in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

On this page:

Who is more at risk of getting ill from coronavirus?

If you have cancer and are having chemotherapy, you are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if you get coronavirus. This is because chemotherapy weakens the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight an infection. People having immunotherapy will also be more at risk for the same reason. There is an immunotherapy clinical trial for pancreatic cancer. This is why they were asked to shield for the last few months. Shielding has now been paused – read more about this.

Even if you are not currently having chemotherapy, you should still be careful about protecting yourself from coronavirus. Some people may be more at risk of getting ill if they get coronavirus. This includes:

  • people with a weakened immune system from chemotherapy
  • people having radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy
  • people over 70
  • people with diabetes
  • people who are still recovering from surgery, or have had their spleen removed – some surgery for pancreatic cancer involves removing the spleen.

People with diabetes

You might have heard in the media that people with diabetes have an increased risk of getting ill from coronavirus. If you have diabetes, try to manage your diabetes carefully, control your blood sugar levels as well as possible, and follow social distancing rules. You should contact your GP or diabetes team if you have any concerns about managing your diabetes. Diabetes UK have information about diabetes and coronavirus, and how to get support from your medical team. 

What is the guidance on social distancing?

Whether or not you have been shielding, if you have pancreatic cancer you may still be more at risk of getting ill if you get coronavirus. You can follow the general guidance for everyone, but be very careful to follow the advice on hygiene and social distancing below.

Try to limit how many people you see. The more people you see, the more risk there is of catching coronavirus. You should be particularly careful to minimise contact with people you don’t live with, and carefully maintain social distancing. Be aware that there is a greater risk of coronavirus spreading indoors than outdoors. Don’t meet with anyone with symptoms of coronavirus, or anyone who has been told to self-isolate by the test and trace programme.

The guidance on social distancing is slightly different across in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There may also be local restrictions in place in areas where there is a higher risk of infection from coronavirus – check locally what these restrictions are in EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

If you live in England 

  • If you are meeting people you don't live with, you can meet in groups of up to 6 people, indoors or outside. Although you can still meet more than 6 people if you live with them or are in a support bubble with them.
  • Aim to stay 2 metres (6 feet) from people you don’t live with or aren’t in a support bubble with. If you take some of the other precautions listed here, staying 1 metre from others is acceptable.
  • Wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser outside your home. Don’t touch your face.
  • Avoid being face to face with people outside your household or support bubble – try to stay side by side with them.
  • You must wear a face covering (such as a face mask) in shops and other indoor public spaces.
  • If you have to visit hospital or the GP surgery, wear a face covering.
  • Keep indoor spaces well ventilated if people visit – for example, keep the windows open.
  • Avoid crowded places.
  • Try to avoid using public transport, but if you have to, try to travel at quieter times, and wear a face covering.
  • You can stay overnight in someone else's home, as long as there are not more than 6 of your (unless you are in a support bubble). 
  • up to 15 people are allowed to meet in a support group.

Read about the current guidance on the GOV.UK website.

In Scotland

  • When meeting people you don't live with, you can only meet people from one other household, outside, up to a maximum of 6 people. 
  • Don't meet people you don't live with in your or their home (unless you are in an extended household).
  • You can meet people you don't live with in indoor public spaces such as cafes or restaurants. a maximum of 6 people from two households can meet - this doesn't include children under 12.
  • If you have formed an extended household, this counts as one household. If there are more than 6 people in your extended household, you can continue to meet as if you live together.
  • Stay 2 metres (6 feet) away from people you don’t live with.
  • Wash your hands carefully and regularly, and use hand sanitiser.
  • Wear a face covering in enclosed spaces. You must wear a face covering in shops, on public transport, and other indoor public spaces.
  • Limit as much as possible how many households you meet in one day.

Read the current guidance in Scotland.

In Wales

  • The general rule is that you can't meet indoors with people who you don't live with or aren’t in your extended household. A maximum of 6 people can meet indoors - this number includes people in your extended household, but it doesn't include children under 11. 
  • Up to 30 people can meet outdoors.  
  • Carefully follow social distancing guidance, staying 2 metres (6 feet) away from people you don’t live with wherever possible.
  • Wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser.
  • You must wear a face covering in indoor public spaces such as shops.
  • There are exceptions to the restrictions on meeting indoors – for example, someone (including family and friends) can come into your home to provide care. People can also visit indoors if someone who is struggling – for example, struggling with lockdown or because they have an illness. Read more on the Welsh government website

Read the guidance in Wales

In Northern Ireland,

  • You can't meet people you don't live with indoors, unless you are in a social bubble with them, or they are providing care. 
  • Up to 6 people from two households can meet outside - this doesn't include children under 12.
  • Up to 15 people can meet in public spaces, indoors or outside.
  • Stay 2 metres (6 feet) away from people you don’t live with or aren’t in a social bubble with.
  • Wash your hands well and often, and use hand sanitiser.
  • You should wear a face covering in indoor public spaces such as on public transport and in shops.
  • Try to avoid being face to face with others – stay side by side with them.

Read the guidance in Northern Ireland.

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People with pancreatic cancer who have been shielding

People who are extremely vulnerable and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus were advised by the NHS to shield during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. This includes people with cancer who are having chemotherapy. People who have recently finished chemotherapy may also be at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus. It also includes people having immunotherapy.

Shielding is still paused across the UK. This is because the evidence shows that the risk of catching coronavirus has reduced. This is national guidance – if there are local restrictions where you live, this may be different. If you need to start shielding again, the government will write to you about this. Check local restrictions in EnglandScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

What does pausing shielding mean?

Pausing shielding means that you can now go out more and see more people. You should follow the same advice as everyone else. But you are still at higher risk of getting very ill if you get coronavirus. So it is very important that you follow the social distancing guidance very carefully. 

You can now go to places like shops and places of worship. You can also go to work as long as your employer has taken measures to protect against coronavirus – but it is still best to work from home if you can. Read more about going back to work

You may have mixed emotions about shielding being paused. You may feel relieved that you can start to go out more, and see more friends and family. Or you may feel worried and anxious about the risk of catching coronavirus. It can feel strange going out again, after so long staying at home. Read more about dealing with this change.

The support from the government for people shielding has now ended. But there may still be other support available.

If you are worried, or have questions about what these changes mean for you, you can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

The advice about shielding has changed because the evidence shows that the risk of catching coronavirus has reduced. But if you have been shielding, you still have a higher risk of getting seriously ill if you do catch it. So make sure you follow the advice carefully, and be strict about social distancing.

Staying safe if you go outside

It’s up to you if you feel comfortable going out at the moment. But if you do, it’s important that you are careful and take precautions to keep yourself safe. You are still at risk of getting seriously ill if you get coronavirus. If you are worried about what this means for you, speak to your medical team.

  • You should still stay at home as much as possible and minimise the amount of time you spend outside.
  • If you do go out, take extra care to minimise contact with others by keeping 2 metres apart.
  • You could try going out when there are fewer people around – for example early mornings, and try to stick to open spaces.
  • If you go into shops, public transport, or other enclosed spaces, wear a face covering.
  • Use hand sanitiser when you are out.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve been out, and don’t touch your face.
  • Don’t share anything with others – for example cups or drinks bottles.
  • You should strictly avoid contact with anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus.
  • The government has produced some cards that you can print or download on your mobile phone, asking others to give you space, if you have concerns about social distancing. Get the cards on the GOV.UK website.

Read the current advice for people who have been shielding in England, ScotlandWales and Northern Ireland.

It is ok to have visits from professionals providing healthcare or personal care as long as they don’t have symptoms of coronavirus and thoroughly wash their hands.

Chemotherapy and infections

If you are having chemotherapy, you are at higher risk of getting any infection, not just coronavirus. This means that it may not be clear whether symptoms are coronavirus or another infection. Read more about infections and chemotherapy. You may not necessarily have the standard symptoms of coronavirus. For example, not everyone will feel hot – some people with a very high temperature will feel cold and shivery.

If you get any symptoms of an infection call the emergency number your chemotherapy team will have given you. If you can’t get through, contact your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) or medical team. You could also try the consultant’s secretary or hospital switchboard if you struggle to get through to your medical team. If you still can’t get through, call 111, or 999 if it’s an emergency. If you live in Scotland and get symptoms, you can also call the Cancer Treatment Helpline on 0800 917 7711 as well as the emergency number from your chemotherapy team.

What does coronavirus mean for my treatment?

Speak to your medical team about what coronavirus might mean for your treatment. Each situation will be specific to the individual person, and different GP surgeries and hospitals will be doing things slightly differently. Your doctor or nurse can talk through what it means for you.

The NHS may provide support remotely where possible – for example by telephone, email or Skype. Some hospital appointments may be changed, so confirm your appointment before travelling to the hospital. 

There will be procedures in place to reduce the risk of coronavirus. For example, there will be social distancing in waiting rooms, and you may be asked not to arrive early for your appointment. The doctors and nurses will be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as a face mask and gloves. You will need to wear a mask at the hospital or GP surgery – unless you are staying overnight at the hospital (an inpatient).

Having tests or surgery

If you are going to hospital for a procedure such as tests or surgery, your doctor should talk to you about the benefits of having the procedure and the possible risks of coronavirus. Your treatment might be delayed if you have symptoms of coronavirus, are self-isolating after being contacted by the test and trace programme, or have tested positive for coronavirus. If this happens, talk to the medical team about rearranging your appointment.

You should reduce your risk of getting coronavirus before going to hospital by minimising contact with others. You may need to self-isolate for 14 days beforehand, especially if you are at greater risk from coronavirus. You will need to carefully follow social distancing and hand hygiene for 14 days before going to hospital.

The hospital will check if you have symptoms of coronavirus. For example, they may call you to ask about any symptoms the day before your appointment, and when you arrive at the hospital.

If you need to have anaesthetic or sedation as part of your test or treatment, you may need to have a test for coronavirus 3 days before you go to hospital. You may also need to self-isolate from the day you have the test. For example, you will have sedation and a local anaesthetic if you are having an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) or ERCP, or having a stent put in. You will have local anaesthetic for a biopsy, and a general anaesthetic for surgery.

If you need to stay in hospital, there may be a limit to how many visitors you can have. This is to help reduce the risk of coronavirus. It is a good idea to take a mobile phone or tablet and charger with you, so that you can talk to family and friends while you’re in hospital.

After you have had your test or treatment, the doctor or nurse should explain what to do if you get symptoms of coronavirus within 3 weeks after leaving hospital. They will also explain about any further care you might need.

Having chemotherapy

If you are having chemotherapy, you are at higher risk of getting seriously unwell from coronavirus. The medical team will take precautions to reduce the risk of you catching coronavirus. For example, they will only ask you to come to the hospital when necessary.

Your chemotherapy may be changed to try to reduce the chance of you getting an infection such as coronavirus. For example, your chemotherapy might be delayed, you might have a break in your chemotherapy, or you might have a different chemotherapy drug or combination of drugs. Decisions about any changes will be specific to your own situation, so talk to your doctor about any changes, and the risks and benefits of these.

If you get symptoms of coronavirus, contact your chemotherapy team on the emergency number they will have given you. They will check whether you have coronavirus or another infection, and the treatment you need. Your chemotherapy will probably be delayed until you have recovered from coronavirus.

Getting information and support

You will probably have worries or questions about how coronavirus will affect your treatment. Speak to your doctor or nurse with any questions. You could also check your hospital website for information about current measures. 

You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line with any questions. They can provide information tailored to your situation.

Read more about what treatment and appointments may be like at the moment in our blog.

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If it is some time since you had pancreatic cancer treatment

If it is some time since you had treatment such as chemotherapy or surgery (unless you had your spleen removed), you will be at lower risk of becoming seriously ill – unless you have other health conditions that increase your risk. But make sure you follow the advice about social distancing above. You can read more on the GOV.UK website.

Support bubbles and extended households 

If you live in England or Northern Ireland, and either you or someone close to you live alone or are a single parent, you could think about forming a “support bubble”. In Scotland, this is called an "extended household". In Wales, four households can form an "extended household" together - there is no limit on the number of people in both households. 

A support bubble or extended household means that you would be able to meet with people in the support bubble indoors as well as outside, be less than 2 metres apart and stay overnight. It would include the whole household of the person who doesn’t live alone. You would effectively be able to act as if you were members of the same household. You should only form a support bubble with one other household, and should not change or add to your support bubble.

Be aware that if you have pancreatic cancer you may be at risk of getting unwell from coronavirus. You are advised to bear this in mind when thinking about forming a support bubble.

If anyone in your support bubble gets coronavirus symptoms, everyone should stay at home. If anyone is contacted as part of the test and trace programme, the person contacted should stay at home. If the person contacted gets coronavirus symptoms, everyone in the support bubble or extended household must then isolate.

Read more about support bubbles in England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

How to deal with the emotional impact of coronavirus and pancreatic cancer

How to deal with the practical impact of coronavirus and pancreatic cancer

Information for people with symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Read our nurses' blog about coronavirus and pancreatic cancer

One Cancer Voice

We are part of the One Cancer Voice group of cancer charities that are working together to provide information about coronavirus and cancer.

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