COVID-19 and cancer

Date: 23 June 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be posting relevant information for our supporters and people living with cancer. This blog will be updated regularly as the situation develops.

You can find an update on the action the charity has taken in response to COVID-19 here
 

Should I see my GP if I’m worried I have cancer?

If you’re experiencing a symptom of cancer, it’s important you contact your GP surgery as soon as possible. To minimise the potential spread of COVID-19, GP surgeries are trying to reduce the number of face-to-face appointments carried out so you may be offered the opportunity to talk to a doctor over the phone or online in the first instance. 

Dr Amir Khan explains why it's so important to contact your GP if you are worried about any unusual changes to your body or anything that doesn’t go away, and what attending an appointment at your surgery might be like.




I already have a medical appointment. What should I do?

The Government is currently advising people to access medical assistance remotely where possible. This means using the telephone or other electronic device for a phone or video consultation. Medical professionals are also being encouraged to postpone face-to-face appointments if they can. 

If you have a scheduled hospital or other medical appointment, talk to your GP or clinician to ensure you continue to receive the care you need. 


Are cancer screening programmes running as normal?

During the COVID-19 pandemic the majority of cancer screening services were paused across the country. However, some screening services are now back up and running. 

Invitations are being sent for cervical screening, and over the next few weeks invitations for breast and bowel screening will start to be sent to certain groups such as those who previously had screening appointments or tests cancelled due to the pandemic. 

If you receive an invitation to screening please attend or complete your screening kit. 

To minimise social contact, you may now be asked to attend your screening appointment alone. When travelling to an appointment, you should try to avoid taking public transport. However, if public transport is necessary face coverings should be worn according to Government guidelines. 

You may be asked to wear gloves and a mask and wait outside the surgery until it’s time for the appointment. The doctor or nurse carrying out the test will wear personal protective equipment and follow social distancing rules as much as possible.

If you think you are overdue a cervical screening appointment, get in touch with your GP surgery who will be able to advise you on next steps. 

For further information about bowel screening contact the local bowel screening hub on 0800 707 60 60.

For further information about breast screening, contact details for breast screening services in Yorkshire can be found here.


Will my cancer treatment plan be affected?

UPDATE - 4/8/20: The NHS has announced a £160 million initiative that will expand and extend ‘COVID-friendly’ cancer treatments that are safer for patients during the pandemic.

The funding will pay for drugs that treat patients without having such a big impact on their immune system or offer other benefits such as fewer hospital visits.

This means your treatment plan may change.

UPDATE - 27/4/20: On Monday 27th April, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that the most urgent NHS services, such as cancer care, which had been stopped so coronavirus could be prioritised, would begin to be restored. Services will be reintroduced on a locally-decided basis, depending on the level the virus is currently impacting different areas and trusts, which varies widely, and how safely work can be reintroduced.

The COVID-19 pandemic means that doctors may need to prioritise cancer treatment for those most in need.

In some cases, the risks of beginning or continuing cancer treatment could outweigh the benefits. This is because patients undergoing treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy are more at risk of becoming seriously unwell if they contract the virus.

To minimise the spread of COVID-19, your hospital may reduce face-to-face appointments and patients may receive treatment at home where possible. 

If you’re currently being treated for cancer, you should discuss your treatment plan with your doctor or cancer nurse specialist. 


What is ‘shielding’?

Expert doctors in England have identified specific medical conditions - including some cancers - that place some people at greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19. These people were advised to shield earlier in the pandemic, however as the number of cases of COVID-19 have declined, shielding has now been paused. This means clinically vulnerable people:

  • no longer need to follow previous shielding advice
  • can go to work as long as the workplace is Covid-secure, but should carry on working from home wherever possible
  • can go outside as much as they like but they should still try to keep their overall social interactions low
  • can visit businesses, such as supermarkets, pubs and shops, while keeping 2 metres away from others wherever possible or 1 metre, plus other precautions
  • will no longer receive free food parcels, medicine deliveries and basic care from the National Shielding Service

These people will still be able to get:

  • local volunteer support by contacting your local authority
  • prescriptions, essential items and food delivered by NHS Volunteer Responders
  • priority slots for supermarket deliveries (if previously registered for free food parcels)

Clinically vulnerable people could be advised to shield again if the situation changes and there is an increase in the transmission of COVID-19 in the community.

The names of clinically vulnerable people will be kept securely on the shielded patient list by NHS Digital, and they will receive a letter if the advice changes. 

Clinically extremely vulnerable people are advised not to enter any area where shielding advice is in place.

 

Will clinical trials be paused?

Clinical and academic healthcare professionals are being encouraged to prioritise frontline care. This means recruitment for studies funded by Yorkshire Cancer Research and other organisations may be put on hold while the NHS deals with the COVID-19 outbreak. New studies are also being postponed while medical professionals focus on care for patients with COVID-19 and studies to tackle the pandemic. If you are currently taking part in a clinical trial, please get in touch with the trial team with any questions or concerns.

According to the National Institute for Health Research, "as the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 declines, some studies that had been put on hold are now restarting. This means that as people receive appointments for non-COVID care, there will be opportunities to take part in research alongside this. The healthcare team may put in place changes to minimise risks for people taking part in research from COVID, such as fewer face-to-face clinics or drive-through blood tests. Check this site or speak to your health professional for updates on opportunities to take part in research, as things are changing quickly.


I’m a smoker. Am I more at risk from COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an illness that affects the lungs and airways. New evidence is emerging that shows smoking can make the impact of COVID-19 worse. 

The repetitive hand-to-face movements used in smoking can provide a route of entry for the virus, and infection can be more severe.

Quitting smoking remains the single most effective thing you can do for your long-term health and the health and wellbeing of your family.

The benefits of quitting can be noticed immediately. After 20 minutes your pulse rate will return to normal and after 72 hours breathing will become easier. Within 3-9 months coughs, wheezing and breathing problems will improve as lung function increases by up to 10%.

Although face-to-face stop smoking consultations have been put on hold during the outbreak, you can access support and advice online.  

Please visit www.todayistheday.co.uk to find out more.  
 

I’m a vaper. Am I more at risk?

E-cigarettes (vapes) can be an effective aid to stopping smoking and staying smokefree. The evidence on the health risks of e-cigarettes is still developing. However, it is clear that vaping is far less harmful to the respiratory system than smoking. There is very little evidence on vaping and coronavirus (COVID-19) and it is unknown whether vaping makes you more susceptible to severe disease if you become infected.  If it does, the risk is likely to be much less than if you smoke.

 

Vaping remains much less harmful than smoking for most people and it is very important that you avoid returning to smoking.

Vaping involves repetitive hand-to-face movements, which provide greater risk of a route of entry into the body for viruses. To reduce the risk of contact with coronavirus (COVID-19), you should:

  • Wash your hands more frequently than usual, for 20 seconds, with soap and water (or use hand sanitiser if soap is not available)
  • Clean your e-cigarette regularly

Public Health England strongly advises against sharing any vaping devices.

Public Health England’s 2018 independent e-cigarette evidence review found that, to date, there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders. There is currently no evidence that coronavirus (COVID-19) can be caught from passive exposure to e-cigarette vapour, but in the absence of evidence we recommend that vapers avoid exhaling clouds of vapour in the presence of others.
 


 

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From supporting people to make lifestyle choices that reduce their risk of developing cancer, encouraging more people to take part in national cancer screening programmes, to finding the best treatments from across the globe and bringing them to Yorkshire, the charity is having a direct impact on the lives of people living in Yorkshire.

But we need more people to join us, to help make sure that people in the region have the best possible support and treatment.

We'd love you to be part of it.

 

 

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