ACS issues COVID-19 information and advice for cancer patients

American Cancer Society Deputy Chief Medical Officer Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., distributed the following communication on March 26…

The new coronavirus (COVID-19) is top of mind for us here at the American Cancer Society. For cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers, this time of uncertainty can be especially worrisome. Please know, we are here for you. As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread globally, we are committed to making sure our community has all of the facts. You can find everything that we know about the coronavirus and its impact on cancer patients and survivors at I also recorded a podcast with my colleagues at TheoryLab, which you can listen to here.

Here are the five things you need to know right now…

1. Cancer patients are among those at high risk of serious illness from an infection because their immune systems are often weakened by cancer and its treatments. Cancer patients and their caregivers need to take precautions to lower their risk of getting COVID-19.

2. To protect yourself from the virus, take these steps…

– Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

– Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

– Avoid close contact – being within six feet – from people.

– Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or cough or sneeze into your elbow.

– Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

– Avoid non-essential travel.

If you need to go out, it’s best to check the CDC’s guidance about protecting yourself and others. If you are a cancer patient, survivor, or caregiver, talk to the cancer care team about whether there are any additional precautions needed.

3. Contact your doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms…

– Fever
– Cough
– Shortness of breath

Some patients may have diarrhea or nausea before these symptoms occur.

Other symptoms can include…

– Body aches and pains
– Nasal congestion
– Runny nose
– Sore throat
– Loss of sense of taste and smell

4. The CDC is now recommending that health care facilities and doctors prioritize urgent and emergency visits and procedures for the coming several weeks. In those circumstances, it won’t be life as usual. It will require patience on everyone’s part as we go through this pandemic. It is important to maintain contact with your cancer care team to determine the best course of action for you.

5. Health officials are urging everyone to stay home as much as possible to further reduce the risk of being exposed to COVID-19. Therefore, we recommend that no one should go to a health care facility for routine cancer screening at this time. Instead, if you’re due for your screening to detect breast, colon, cervix, or lung cancer, postpone your appointment for the near future.

You can find more answers and ways to stay healthy on our website. We, along with other global health organizations, are monitoring the situation as this pandemic unfolds, and will continue to keep our community updated.


Len Lichtenfeld, M.D.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer
American Cancer Society

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