What Cancer Patients, Survivors, & Caregivers Need to Know about Coronavirus

What Cancer Patients, Survivors, & Caregivers Need to Know about Coronavirus

By Rachel Solomon –

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus (named 2019-nCoV) that was first detected in Wuhan City, China and which continues to expand, including some confirmed cases within the U.S.

For many cancer patients and survivors with compromised immune systems, the reporting on this public health emergency may likely be source of anxiety. However, the CDC reports that the immediate risk of this new virus to the American public is believed to be low at this time.

What is the coronavirus?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that range from the common cold to much more serious diseases. 2019-nCoV is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.

Government Response

On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.” On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency for the United States to aid the nation’s healthcare community in responding to the coronavirus. Also on January 31, President Trump signed a presidential “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus.”

The CDC reports that the goal of the ongoing U.S. public health response is to detect new cases quickly and prevent further spread of 2019-nCoV in the country.

How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from the coronavirus?

You can protect yourself from all respiratory infections and prevent the spread of disease by:

  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using an antiseptic hand gel.
  • Avoiding crowded areas and sick people.
  • Avoiding consumption of raw or undercooked animal products, as per good food safety practices.

The WHO recommends that if you have mild respiratory symptoms and no travel history to or within China, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, disinfect the objects and surfaces you touch, and to stay home until you are recovered, if possible.

“The most important thing for cancer patients to remember is that their risk of being exposed to the novel coronavirus is very low,” says MD Anderson infectious disease specialist Roy Chemaly, M.D. “So for now, the flu is still a much bigger concern in the U.S.”

Where can I get more information about the 2019 novel coronavirus?

The CDC has launched a helpful page that includes the following resources:

  • A summary of the ongoing situation
  • Symptoms and complications
  • Prevention and treatment
  • Transmission
  • FAQS
  • What to do if you are sick (with coronavirus or caring for someone with it)

Patient advocacy organizations and medical institutions have been addressing the ongoing issue, including:

If you are traveling, the U.S. Department of State also has reputable, helpful info regarding travel advisories. Dr. Nischay Mishra, a virologist and infectious diseases specialist at Columbia University, told SurvivorNet that those with compromised immune systems should avoid traveling to areas that the virus is known to be.


World Health Organization. Novel Coronavirus 2019. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Situation Summary. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/summary.html.