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 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. 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 coronavirus. 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.

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.

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 were 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.
  • Carefully maintain social distancing with people you don’t live with, aiming to stay 2 metres away from others.
  • Wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser outside your home. Don’t touch your face.
  • 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 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so check the advice for where you live.

Local restrictions

The infection rate of coronavirus is different across the UK, and there are different restrictions in places.

The English government has introduced alert levels (tiers) for different areas across England, depending on the level of infection. Find out what tier your area is in, and read more about the different tiers:

Read the guidance for England. There is also some specific guidance for people who were previously shielding – read more about this below.

In Scotland, the government has introduced 5 protection levels, with different restrictions, depending on the infection rate in an area. Read about these different protection levels, and check what the restrictions are where you live.

In Wales, you can go out, but there are restrictions in place.

  • You shouldn’t meet people you don’t live with or aren’t in an extended household with in your home.
  • Someone can still come into your home to provide care.
  • Limit how much you leave your home, and how far you travel.
  • When you do go out, maintain social distancing, wash your hands regularly, and wear a face covering in indoor public places.
  • You can meet in groups of up to 4 people who don’t live together or aren’t in an extended household.
  • But try to limit how many different people you see. It is better to see the same one or two people regularly than to see lots of different people occasionally.
  • Meet people outdoors rather than indoors where possible.
  • Work from home if you can.

Read more about the restrictions in Wales.

In Northern Ireland, you should not meet people you don’t live with inside, unless you are in a support bubble or receiving or providing care. Up to 6 people from 2 households can meet outdoors, but must social distance. Read more about the restrictions in Northern Ireland.

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People with pancreatic cancer who were 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 means that you can now go out. But you should follow the same advice as everyone else, depending on the guidance where you live.

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 and any local restrictions very carefully.

If you need to start shielding again, the government will write to you about this.

Read the current advice for people who have been shielding in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Follow the guidance where you live. You can also read more about staying safe if you go out below.

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 live in England, there is guidance for people who are extremely vulnerable, depending on the local alert level for your area.

Tier 1: medium

  • Don’t meet in groups of more than 6 people you don’t live with or aren’t in a support bubble with.
  • If you do meet with people you don’t live with, try to limit the number of people you meet, maintain social distancing, and meet outside.
  • Do go outside for exercise.
  • Work from home if you can.
  • Try to go shopping at quieter times of the day.
  • Limit journeys on public transport.

Tier 2: high

  • Don’t meet people you don’t live with or aren’t in a social bubble with inside.
  • You can meet people you don’t live with outside, but don’t meet in groups of more than 6.
  • Limit the number of people you see that you don’t live with – the fewer people you see, the lower the risk of catching coronavirus.
  • Make sure you maintain social distancing with people you don’t live with.
  • Do go outside for exercise.
  • Work from home if you can. If you can’t work from home, your employer should make sure your workplace is safe. They could also put you on furlough.
  • Reduce the number of times you go shopping and shop at quieter times. Try online shopping or ask friends or family to help.
  • Try to avoid travelling anywhere, except for work and shopping for essentials. Try to avoid public transport.

Tier 3: very high

  • You can only meet with people you don’t live with or aren’t in a support bubble with in certain outdoor public spaces.
  • Always maintain social distancing with people you don’t live with.
  • Stay at home as much as possible, but do go outside for exercise.
  • You could maintain social distancing at home with those you live with, if this is possible.
  • You should work from home if possible. Speak to your employer about ways to make this possible. Your employer could also put you on furlough.
  • If there is no other option, you can go to work. But your employer must make sure the workplace is safe.
  • Try to avoid travelling as much as possible.
  • Reduce how much you go shopping and try to shop online. You could also ask friends and family to collect food and medicine.
  • If you do need to go shopping, go at quieter times of the day.
  • The government will write to you if you need to start shielding again. Unless you get a letter from the government, you don’t need to shield.

Read more about the guidance in England if you are extremely vulnerable.

If you live in Scotland, there is some specific guidance for people who were shielding, depending on which protection level your area is in.

  • If you live in an area with level 0 or 1, you should follow the general advice about meeting others. In level 2, you should reduce how much contact you have with people you don’t live with. In level 3 or 4, limit how much you see people you don’t live with.
  • You can still meet people in your extended household, whichever level you live in. But you should follow strict hygiene measures, like washing your hands and cleaning surfaces.
  • You should try to work from home, but if this isn’t possible, speak to your employer to make sure your workplace is safe. It should be possible for most workplaces to be made safe. If your workplace can’t be made safe and you live in an area with level 2 or 3, speak to your GP or consultant about getting a fit note. In level 4, the Chief Medical Officer can send you a letter which is similar to a fit note.

The Scottish government website has information for people who were previously shielding for each protection level.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, you should follow the same guidance as everyone else. There is some advice about keeping safe on the Welsh government website and the nidirect website.

The support from the government for people shielding has now ended. But there may still be other support available. If you live in Wales, you can sign up to get updates about shielding sent via phone or email.

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

Staying safe if you go outside

If you do go out at the moment, 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.
  • If you do go out, take extra care to minimise contact with others by keeping 2 metres apart.
  • Use hand sanitiser when you are out.
  • Always wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve been out, and don’t touch your face.
  • You could try going out when there are fewer people around – for example early mornings, and try to stick to open spaces.
  • Try to limit the number of people you see – the fewer people you see, the lower the risk of catching coronavirus.
  • If you go into shops or other enclosed spaces, wear a face covering.
  • 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.

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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 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 Northern Ireland, two households can form a support bubble, and in Wales, two households can form an extended household.

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.

Updated: 12 December 2020