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What is COVID-19 and how will it affect people with pancreatic cancer?

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a type of virus called a coronavirus. It is a new virus that affects your lungs. It is very infectious, which means it can spread quickly from one person to another.

Symptoms include:

  • a high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new, continuous cough – coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours. If you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual
  • a change to or loss of your normal sense of taste or smell.

What should I do if I have symptoms of coronavirus?

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, stay at home (self-isolate) for 7 days from when your symptoms started. Don’t go to your GP, pharmacy or hospital. Use these websites to find out what to do based on your situation. If you live in:

You should apply for a coronavirus test on the NHS website. The tests are either home test kits that you can do at home, or a test at a drive through testing centre. The test needs to be done in the first 5 days of having symptoms. Read more about tests on the NHS website.

If the test result is positive this means you have coronavirus, and you should continue to self-isolate. The NHS will contact you by email, text or phone as part of the contact tracing service. This aims to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The NHS will ask you where you've been recently and who you've been in close contact with. They will then contact these people and tell them to self-isolate for 14 days.

If someone you have been in close contact with recently tests positive for coronavirus, the NHS will also contact you as there is a chance you might get coronavirus. You will need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day you were last in contact with the person.

The contact tracing service is slightly different in the four nations.

Where to find more information about coronavirus

 There is a lot of information available from the NHS and government about coronavirus.

How will coronavirus affect people with pancreatic cancer?

If you have cancer and are having chemotherapy, you are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if you get the coronavirus infection. 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. People having these treatments are at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus, and there is specific advice for them.

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

If this is you, follow the NHS advice carefully. Stay at home, wash your hands carefully and often, and don’t touch your face if your hands aren’t clean.

You might have heard in the media that people with diabetes have an increased risk of getting ill from the 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 the coronavirus, and how to get support from your medical team. 

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. But continue to follow the NHS advice about coronavirus.

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People having chemotherapy

People who are extremely vulnerable and at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus have been advised by the NHS to shield over the last few months. 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.

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 above. 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.

Read information for extremely vulnerable people on the GOV.UK website.

What is the advice for people who are extremely vulnerable?

If you have been shielding, you will have been advised to stay at home and avoid any face-to-face contact. In England and Wales, the government has changed its guidance from 1 June. They have said that you can now leave your home if you are shielding, but must maintain strict social distancing, staying at least 2 metres from others. If you live in England, you can go outside with people you live with, or if you live alone you can spend time outside with one other person. It's slightly different in Wales, where you can meet people you don’t live with as long as you stay outside.

These changes are only in England and Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, if you have been shielding, you should continue to stay at home at all times.

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 with your medical team.

  • You should still stay at home as much as possible and minimise the amount of time you spend outside.
  • If you live alone in England, you can go out with one person. Ideally, this should be the same person each time.
  • If you do go out, take extra care to minimise contact with others by keeping 2 metres apart.
  • You could trying going out when there are fewer people around – for example early mornings, and try to stick to open spaces.
  • 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.
  • Don’t go into other buildings, such as other people’s houses, or shops.
  • Don’t go out with more than one person you don’t live with. And don’t  attend any gatherings, such as groups of friends and family, parties, weddings or religious services.
  • You should strictly avoid contact with anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus.

Read the current advice in England and Wales.

At home 

If you live with someone, the NHS still recommends that:
  • you try to keep 2 metres (6 feet) away from them
  • minimise as much as possible the time you spend time in the same room as them, and try to keep rooms well ventilated
  • everyone in the home should regularly wash their hands thoroughly, and should avoid touching their face
  • you should not see friends or family who don’t live with you.

We know that following this advice will be very hard, especially when you are coping with pancreatic cancer and will want support from your family. Read about ways to help you cope below.

People who do live with you should stay at home as much as possible. When they do go out, they should carefully follow the guidance on social distancing, avoid people they don't live with, stay 2 metres away from others, and thoroughly wash their hands. Read more on the NHS website.

It is still 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.

If you can, ask family, friends and neighbours to support you, and use online services. You can also use services that are being set up where you live.

  • If you live in England and are at very high risk of serious illness from coronavirus, register on the GOV.UK website or call 0800 028 8327 to get support, for example with food deliveries.
  • If you live in Scotland, the Scottish government has set up a text message service to provide support to people who are shielding. They should write to you to tell you how to register for this. You can also contact your local authority’s shielding support line.
  • If you live in Wales, you can contact your local authority for support – the contact details should be in the letter from the NHS.
  • If you live in Northern Ireland, you can contact the COVID-19 Community Helpline.

What does this mean for my treatment?

Speak to your medical team about what these measures might mean for your treatment. Each situation will be specific to the individual person, and your doctor or nurse can talk through what it means for you. Some treatment may be changed or delayed to try to reduce the risk of you getting unwell from coronavirus.

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

You will probably have worries or questions about how coronavirus and shielding will affect your treatment. You can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line. They can provide information tailored to your situation.

Read more information for people at very high risk from coronavirus on the GOV.UK website.

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People with pancreatic cancer who are not currently having chemotherapy

If you have pancreatic cancer you may still be more at risk of getting ill if you get coronavirus, even if you aren’t currently having chemotherapy. This includes people over 70, people with diabetes, people who have a weakened immune system as a result of recent chemotherapy, people having radiotherapy or chemoradiotherapy, and people who have had their spleen removed through surgery.

You should carefully follow the government’s advice on hygiene and social distancing.

  • Stay at home as much as possible.
  • If you do go out, be careful to minimise contact with anyone not in your household, and stay at least 2 metres away from them.
  • Make sure you wash your hands regularly.
  • Read more on the NHS website.

If you are having care at home from a community care team, they may support you through phone calls if home visits aren’t necessary. Call your GP surgery or the community care team if you need support.

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

Information for people with symptoms of pancreatic cancer.

Hear from our specialist nurses, who have made videos to give information on 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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