How will coronavirus affect people with pancreatic cancer?

Find out what coronavirus (COVID-19) means for you if you have pancreatic cancer, and how it may affect you.

This page explains who may be at risk of becoming more seriously ill if they were to get coronavirus, and information for people who are at higher risk – such as people having chemotherapy. There is also information about what current advice means for people with pancreatic cancer, and how to stay safe

The information here is based on the national guidance across the UK. It was accurate at the time of publishing, and we update the information regularly, but things are often changing quickly. Check what the guidance is for you locally in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Who is more at risk of getting ill from coronavirus?

Some people with pancreatic cancer are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they get coronavirus. You may hear the term “clinically extremely vulnerable” to describe this risk. These people were asked to shield at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. They include:

  • People who have cancer and are having chemotherapy. This is because chemotherapy weakens the immune system, making it harder for your body to fight an infection.
  • People who have had their spleen removed, because the spleen is part of the immune system. Some surgery for pancreatic cancer involves removing the spleen.
  • People having immunotherapy will also be more at risk. There is an immunotherapy clinical trial for pancreatic cancer. This is why they were asked to shield for the last few months.

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.

People with diabetes

If you have diabetes, try to manage your diabetes carefully, control your blood sugar levels as well as possible, and be careful to keep yourself safe. You should contact your GP or diabetes team if you have any concerns about managing your diabetes. We have more information about managing diabetes if you have pancreatic cancer. Diabetes UK have information about diabetes and coronavirus, and how to get support from your medical team.

People at higher risk from coronavirus should have the vaccine

Read more about the vaccine

What is the current advice?

The guidance is slightly different in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so check the advice for where you live.

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People with pancreatic cancer who are at higher risk from coronavirus

People who are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus 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.

People at higher risk were advised to shield at the start of the pandemic. Shielding has now been stopped across the UK. But you may still be at higher risk of getting ill if you get coronavirus. So it is very important that you follow the guidance very carefully. 

Make sure you have all doses of the vaccine when you are offered it. This will give you the best protection from coronavirus. You should still be careful to keep yourself safe after having the vaccine.

The government guidance for people who are at higher risk is to follow the advice for everyone else in your area. Read the current advice in England on the NHS website and GOV.UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Read more about keeping safe below.

It’s important that you continue to get medical care if you need it. The NHS is taking precautions to keep people safe. Read more about cancer care at the moment.

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. You should also continue to go to medical appointments, and contact health services in an emergency.

If you are worried, or have questions about coronavirus, you can speak to our specialist nurses on our free Support Line.

Treatments for coronavirus if you are at high risk of getting seriously ill

Some people may still be at high risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus, despite being vaccinated. There are new treatments available that can help stop you getting seriously ill. Read more about these treatments on the NHS website.

This includes people who have:

  • certain types of cancer
  • had certain types of chemotherapy or radiotherapy in the last 12 months
  • had surgery to remove the cancer in the last 3 months and not had chemotherapy.

Your specialist or NHS England should let you know if you are eligible for these treatments. Check with your specialist if you think you are eligible but haven’t been told about it.

The government will send you lateral flow tests to use if you get any symptoms of coronavirus. Report your test results on GOV.UK.

If you do test positive for coronavirus, the NHS will contact you to assess whether these new treatments are suitable for you. These treatments need to be taken quickly after you test positive, so if the NHS hasn’t contacted you within 24 hours, call your GP surgery or 111.

If the treatments are suitable for you, the NHS will tell you how and where to get them.

Read more about these treatments on the NHS website. There is also advice about keeping yourself safe on the GOV.UK website.

There is also a study looking at treatments for coronavirus for people who have tested positive and have another condition that means they are at higher risk. Find out more about the study if you are interested in taking part.

Staying safe

It’s still important that you are careful and take precautions to keep yourself safe if you have pancreatic cancer. If you are worried about what coronavirus means for you, speak to your medical team.

  • Get all doses of the vaccine when you are offered them.
  • Ask others to take a lateral flow test before meeting you.
  • Make sure you go to any medical appointments.
  • Follow the guidance for where you live.
  • It is a personal choice how close you get to friends and family. But be careful, and think about the risks. If you decide you would rather stay 2 metres away from people, explain this to them.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus or tested positive for it.
  • You might want to wait until 14 days after you have had the latest dose of the vaccine before being close to others.
  • Meet friends and family outdoors if possible. If you do meet indoors, make sure there is good ventilation by opening windows and doors.
  • You could ask people to wear face coverings if you are meeting inside.
  • If you go out, you could try to stay 2 metres away from people you aren’t socialising with.
  • Use hand sanitiser when you are out, and don’t touch your face.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve been out.
  • You might want to go to places like shops and cafés at quieter times. you could also shop online, or ask friends, family or neighbours if they can get supplies for you.
  • If you need prescription medicines, you could ask someone to collect them for you, or contact your pharmacy to see if they can deliver. You should be able to order repeat prescriptions through your GP’s website or by phone or by using the NHS Health at Home service.
  • You may want to wear a face covering in public indoor spaces.
  • Don’t share anything with others – for example cups or drinks bottles.
  • 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.
  • Work from home if you can. If you can’t work from home, you can go to work – your employer should be taking measures to keep you safe.
  • You may be able to get statutory sick pay if you have coronavirus, or if you have pancreatic cancer and aren’t well enough to work.
  • If you need support with your finances, the Money Advice Service, Citizens Advice, and Macmillan Cancer Support can all provide help.
  • Some local support groups may still be offering support through the Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK website.

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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 current guidance.

Updated: 14 June 2022