Our fact-checking process begins with a thorough review of all sources to ensure they are high quality. Then we cross-check the facts with original medical or scientific reports published by those sources, or we validate the facts with reputable news organizations, medical and scientific experts and other health experts. Each page includes all sources for full transparency.
The content on this page was medically or scientifically reviewed for accuracy and clarity by medical doctors, scientists, researchers or other subject-matter experts.
Older adults with cancer and chronic illness have the highest risk for developing severe complications from COVID-19. Knowing how to prepare and protect yourself against the virus could make all the difference for you and your family.
The new coronavirus is changing life as we know it. The pandemic has quickly spread across the globe, taking national governments and private citizens by surprise.
Its rapid rate of spread and severity of symptoms make the new coronavirus a serious health concern, especially for people with thoracic cancers such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Patients diagnosed with these respiratory conditions may be wondering just how dangerous the situation could be for them.
As of April 28, 2020, the World Health Organization has reported 2.9 million worldwide COVID-19 cases with 202,597 deaths. The U.S. has reported 960,916 cases with 49,170 deaths.
Coronavirus is the name given to a family of viruses that, when viewed under a microscope, display a spiky ring of proteins around their surface that resemble a crown or corona. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus responsible for coronavirus disease 2019, which is known as COVID-2019. It is the seventh known type of coronavirus to infect humans.
Other types of coronavirus are common among humans and cause mild respiratory symptoms similar to the common cold. The new coronavirus, however, is a strain producing severe flu-like symptoms in most people who come in contact with an infected person.
Most patients diagnosed with coronavirus present with the following symptoms:
Some patients have reported a loss of smell or taste after infection. However, data on this is lacking, and the effects seem temporary. Other patients are asymptomatic, meaning they show no symptoms but may carry the disease.
Infectious disease researchers currently believe COVID-19 symptoms may not appear for up to two weeks after initial infection; this is known as the incubation period. Getting tested at the first signs of coronavirus infection can protect you from the disease earlier and also prevent the spread to many others.
While early testing and the use of face masks would be ideal, both of these are in short supply.
Your health care provider or local department of health should have information on the availability and location of coronavirus testing near you.
Face masks may be out of stock in your area due to high demand. However, the only mask proven effective by the CDC to prevent transmission of COVID-19 is the N95 respirator and should be reserved for caregivers.
If you have tested positive or are exhibiting symptoms, the most effective course of action is to self-isolate at home, in which case a mask is not needed.
If you are ill and it is absolutely necessary to go into public areas, the CDC recommends using a simple face mask or homemade solution, such as a bandana or scarf, to mitigate the spread of some germs.
The American Cancer Society is now recommending that no one should go to a health care facility for routine cancer screening at this time. If you are due for a regular screening visit, plan to postpone this appointment for the near future.
“I already had to cancel one of my appointments…because it’s not worth the risk of me going down there and possibly getting this virus.”— Emily Ward Seven-year pleural mesothelioma survivor
Call ahead and inform your oncologist’s office or emergency department you may have COVID-19. This helps the office protect their staff and other patients.
Wear a face mask as soon as you begin to exhibit symptoms. Wearing a mask and keeping at least six feet away from others will help prevent the spread of disease.
Results are available four to six hours after testing. If you test positive, stay home, keep in touch with your doctor and limit contact with other people. If you test negative, it does not mean you won’t get sick later. You should continue following preventative measures.
Most people who are mildly ill with COVID-19 have safely recovered at home. However, cancer patients and other populations with compromised immune systems have a higher risk of severe symptoms.
Because cancer patients, especially those with mesothelioma and lung cancer, have an increased risk of complications from an infection, they should understand the risks of exposure to the disease.
Get a free recording of the COVID-19 and mesothelioma presentation hosted by the experts at The Mesothelioma Center.Get Yours Now
As coronavirus attacks the lungs, it causes lung tissue to produce increased fluid and cellular waste known as exudate. This buildup of fluids and matter causes inflammation of vital tissue such as the lining of air sacs and the pleura, which is the tissue surrounding the lungs. In cancer patients, these tissues have likely already been damaged by cancer cells or various treatments.
Damaged tissues in the lungs are more prone to infection as they lack the natural defenses of healthy cells. This allows the development of opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia, which puts patients at risk for septicemia or other complications that can lead to organ failure or death.
We’ll be updating this page regularly as the situation changes and more resources become available. Below is a list of national information centers providing additional updates and guides on how to prevent the spread of disease and what to do if you’re infected.
There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19. Treatment is largely similar to what exists for influenza: Treating the symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid exposure to the virus.
Coronavirus is thought to spread primarily from person-to-person via respiratory droplets, which are tiny drops of fluid produced when you talk, cough, sneeze or breathe heavily. These droplets can contain the virus and be launched a little more than 3 feet. If any droplets land on another person, or are transmitted by touch, the virus can gain access to the eyes, mouth or nose and begin a new infection.
Due to the nature of coronavirus transmission, social distancing, hand-washing and general hygiene become critically important. Cancer patients can protect themselves from infection by following these CDC-recommended procedures:
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important after touching someone else, being in a public place, coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose. Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to cover all surfaces of your hands and allow them to dry.
Practice social distancing. Avoid close contact with people who are sick as well as those who might be sick or who are at higher risk of health complications. Keeping at least 6 feet away from any other people at all times can significantly limit the spread of COVID-19. This includes staying home when you are sick or wearing a face mask if you must leave the house. You do not need to wear a face mask if you are not sick.
Keep surfaces clean and disinfected. Doorknobs, sinks, countertops, tables, remote controls, switches, keyboards, phones and any other frequently touched surfaces in your home should be cleaned and wiped with household disinfectants.
If you are a cancer patient or caregiver accustomed to being around someone else almost every day, it may be difficult to adjust to social distancing. However, there are many ways to work around the challenges of long-distance caregiving.
First and foremost, caregivers should be following the CDC and World Health Organization guidelines and policies. Adults 60 and older with preexisting medical conditions are at the highest risk for coronavirus complications. Washing your hands, avoiding crowds and disinfecting surfaces could save lives.
The fatality rate across all coronavirus patients with a history of cancer was 5.6%.
Limiting in-person visits will lower transmission risk of COVID-19. But it may be tough for older patients who are used to spending time with friends and family. However, social distancing does not need to lead to isolation.
Caregivers can help their loved ones access technology that will allow them to reach out and continue connecting with the people they care about. Cancer patients who need to speak with their attorneys for new or ongoing litigation may also use teleconferencing tools to communicate with their lawyers.
Caregivers, family members and loved ones may be wondering how best to keep themselves and others safe during shelter-in-place orders. Depending on your situation, it may be best to limit interaction with your patient, prepare a stock of supplies or alter travel plans.
Adapting your role as a caregiver to be safe and responsible while still providing care is the best thing you can do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during the pandemic.
Caregivers and family members can follow these guidelines for effective self-quarantine:
Stay at home
Do not permit visitors
Stay 6 feet apart from others
Keep surfaces and objects disinfected
Do not share utensils, towels or clothes
Elective cancer surgeries were scheduled to resume April 26, 2020. Cancers such as lung cancer are more treatable through surgery than other methods and waiting more than a month poses more risk than benefit. However, the risk of infection becomes significantly greater after surgery, making effective self-quarantine that much more important.
If you are a caregiver, consult with your patient’s physician or treatment center regarding safety measures you should take before entering your patient’s home or providing care.
FEMA.gov has a list of emergency management agencies by state that you can contact to find out more details regarding your local shelter-in-place order.
If you have a loved one who could be at risk for COVID-19, take the opportunity to prepare their house to prevent transmission of disease. Use disinfecting wipes that are 60% alcohol to clean frequently used surfaces and electronics.
If you are using an EPA-registered household disinfectant, check the label to determine if the product needs to be left wet on surfaces or if you should be using gloves or a face mask.
Consider creating a safe zone near the front door or other entrances. Block off an area with tape and set up a table with hand sanitizer and a trash can. This way, anyone who must come to the house can remove any possibly infected items from their person and sanitize their hands before entering.
If there are multiple people sharing a home and one of them is sick, choose a room in the house that can be used to separate the sick household member. If possible, allocate a bathroom for only the sick person to use. Clean the sick person’s area only when needed in order to limit your exposure.
To clean soft surfaces, use soap and water or launder according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Use the warmest possible setting on your washing machine and ensure items are completely dried.
Wear gloves if you are doing laundry for a sick family member. It is not required to separate their laundry from anyone else’s items. However, avoid shaking dirty laundry and disinfect clothes hampers after emptying. When finished, remove gloves and wash hands immediately.
A caregiver can provide personal cleaning supplies, such as paper towels, toilet paper and cleaning solution, to the sick household member. If they are able, the sick person can clean their own space.
As a caregiver or family member of someone at risk for COVID-19, your first priority should be your own safety. If you become ill, you will be unable to provide care for those who require it. Limit contact with strangers through social distancing and avoid any public places if possible. Follow CDC guidelines for hand-washing and do not reuse face masks or gloves.
As you work to protect your loved ones from becoming sick, organize their environment with a stock of the following cleaning and health supplies:
Disposable paper towels
Waste bins with disposable liners
Cleaners and disinfectant solutions
Hand soap and sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol)
Fever-reducing medication (such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen)
Your role as a caregiver during this time should also be to provide support and stability. Recommend to your patient or family member they avoid watching the news if it causes them anxiety or concern. Reassure them you will always be available by phone or video call.
Continue to remain in contact with your patient’s physician or treatment center for updates regarding their schedule and availability.
As a caregiver, you have the opportunity to be a pillar of security and comfort for those who need it most. Preparing a safe environment and providing the right resources will ensure those with the highest risk of infection will still be protected.
The CDC recommends that people at higher risk for COVID-19 complications avoid all cruise travel and nonessential air travel. Crowded settings, such as airports, may increase your patient’s exposure, and the rate of spread may differ between your origin and destination.
If you are planning domestic travel, consider if it is worth the risk of exposing your patient to the virus. For essential travel, such as to a distant treatment center, make sure that during the trip your patient is separated from other people, wearing a face mask and following strict hygiene precautions.
It is best practice to book a separate adjoining hotel room for the sick patient. If the patient requires more careful observation or frequent medical care, try to book a large room with beds that are farther apart. Assume all surfaces in your hotel room are potentially contaminated and inquire with the staff on what steps they are taking to prevent spread of transmission.
The LUNGevity Foundation created Breathe Easier: An Emergency Response Fund, which provides $500 grants to eligible lung cancer patients and their families during the coronavirus crisis.
Patients can call LUNGevity’s help line at 844-360-5864 to learn about eligibility requirements.
Older adults with thoracic cancers and other respiratory illnesses are the populations most at risk from COVID-19. The coronavirus is a respiratory disease and presents unique challenges and complications for patients already struggling with respiratory symptoms and distress.
There are a number of preexisting conditions that make the fight against COVID-19 tougher for many patients. Lung cancer, mesothelioma, head and neck cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease all present the opportunity for dangerous complications with coronavirus.
A study published March 3, 2020, showed cancer patients were prone to severe events from exposure to COVID-19, including admission to an intensive care unit requiring invasive ventilation. The overwhelming inflammatory response caused by immune system proteins called cytokines was responsible for significant lung damage.
Lung cancer patients are at high risk of coronavirus complications, according to a JAMA Oncology study published March 25, 2020. Among 228 patients with non-small cell lung cancer at a facility in Wuhan, China, seven patients were diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia.
The study reported that hospital admission and frequent hospital visits were the greatest potential risk factors for infection. Further evidence also indicates that smoking history and COPD are independent risk factors in severe COVID-19 cases.
People with lung cancer have a 50% to 70% chance to develop serious lung infections, such as pneumonia, during their illness. Cancer patients and other people with weakened immune systems should be aware of the differences between symptoms of an infection versus those of a chronic respiratory illness.
The symptoms below appear in both respiratory infections and thoracic cancers, however there are some key distinctions:
Cough: Coughing will be more persistent in thoracic cancers, lasting several weeks and getting progressively worse.
Shortness of breath: People with pneumonia will have short and severe bouts of breathlessness that may progress rapidly. In lung cancer and mesothelioma patients, shortness of breath is typically more persistent and regular.
Fatigue: Pneumonia may cause tiredness, but it is usually not as severe as fatigue in cancer patients.
Loss of appetite: Anorexia, or decreased appetite, is more common in cancer than in pneumonia. This is the primary cause of weight loss in mesothelioma and lung cancer patients and can be mitigated by a healthy diet.
Phlegm, wheezing or chest pain: These are similar in presentation in thoracic cancers and pneumonia. If these symptoms worsen, contact your physician for further testing.
Email Sean for more information and stay updated.
Due to the overlap in symptoms between respiratory infections and thoracic cancers, the risk of misdiagnosis is much higher during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, understaffed and undersupplied medical providers worsen this situation.
A patient who has a cough and fever may test negative for COVID-19 and not receive further screening for thoracic cancers such as mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers. Similarly, a cancer patient who experiences chronic cough and respiratory distress may find it more difficult to identify the symptoms of COVID-19 and know when to get tested.
Common symptoms that occur in thoracic cancers and not in respiratory infections include:
Vocal changes such as hoarseness
Unexplained weight loss
Swelling in the face or neck
Joint pain in the shoulders or neck
Changes in the shape or color of fingertips and nail beds
Infections are the second most common cause of death in people with lung cancer. Without a diagnosis and proper treatment, complications can lead to permanent damage and possibly death.
As pneumonia develops from severe coronavirus infections, it can cause severe damage to mesothelioma and lung cancer patients who have undergone aggressive treatment or only have one lung remaining.
Tumor mass in the lungs or chest cavity takes oxygen and essential nutrients away from healthy cells. The cancerous tumors cause a decrease in normal lung cell function. Not only does this increase the risk of infection as the airway becomes compromised, but it also prevents the ability to clear the infection.
A person with metastatic lung cancer who develops pneumonia has a 5-year survival rate of less than 5%. In contrast, the survival rate of people infected with pneumonia without lung cancer is more than 95%.
Pleural mesothelioma patients are at higher risk of chest pain with pneumonia because the nerve fibers that sense pain are located in the pleura. This pain is usually sharp when inhaling a deep breath and is called pleuritic pain or pleurisy.
Stockpiling of household necessities continues to be a concern as many retailers run short on supplies. Unfortunately, cancer patients also require medical supplies and equipment, such as oxygen, that may be hard to obtain or in high demand.
Contact your regular supplier of oxygen or medical supplies and find out if they are still delivering to homes during the pandemic. Many suppliers have mobilized to provide support in wider areas that require assistance. If your regular supplier is unavailable, contact your health care provider for a list of services that provide the equipment you need.
Practicing social distancing does not mean you won’t get the deliveries you need. Call ahead to your delivery services and inform them if you or anyone at home is possibly sick. Many delivery companies are prepared during this time to offer contactless delivery or drop-off and prevent contamination of your home or their employees.
Social distancing may also provide challenges for cancer patients who have recently undergone surgery and are more susceptible to infection. People who are still recovering from surgery and require caregiving at home should continue to follow the CDC and WHO policies and procedures for preventing infection and decreasing risk of transmission.
If you are at risk for infection, it is essential to keep open communication with anyone who may come into your home to determine if they have been potentially exposed to the coronavirus.
Due to the overwhelming number of people seeking medical care and the burden that COVID-19 is placing on health care providers, it may be more difficult to access your regular cancer treatments during this time.
Many patients may be experiencing anxiety or reluctance to visit their physician’s offices and expose themselves to others who may be infected. For this reason, it’s important to call ahead wherever you plan to be seen. The office can make accommodations for you and their staff, so you are only in proximity with essential staff.
Appointment changes, treatment disruptions and pharmacy availability are also considerations that may impact your regular schedule of health care. If you have not received updates, make sure to contact your pharmacy and health care providers and inquire about any altered business hours or unavailable services.
In addition to medications being out of stock, planned surgeries may also be postponed, reducing unnecessary infection risks for vulnerable populations. Cancer patients may feel worry or anxiety as they are left waiting for the treatment required to continue treating their cancer.
These feelings are valid but can lead to irritability or fatigue. By keeping clear and organized documentation of your health and symptoms, you can channel your energy into being prepared for any disruptions in your regular care.
Have medication lists, medical history, test results and similar medical documents available in case you are required to continue treatment at an alternative site.
There are additional steps you can take to stay on track with your planned treatment schedule. Below are some frequently asked questions regarding how the coronavirus pandemic may affect your cancer treatment.
The answers to these questions will come from the medical facility where you currently receive treatment. If you have not heard updates from them regarding changes in schedule or operations during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact them to discuss if your treatment will be affected.
There is currently no evidence that suggests you should stop taking any of your regular prescription medication.
If you have routine scans or tests scheduled, consult your physician if it’s worth delaying these appointments, especially if you are clinically stable and without symptoms.
If your treatment center is moving to limited or discontinued availability, follow up with them and find out if they can provide a list of alternative resources or places to receive treatment.
You can also contact your insurance provider for a list of facilities where you can temporarily access your treatment. They may also be able to inform you of any home care options available. It’s most important to speak with your oncologist, however, to ensure you are continuing the therapy recommended for your condition.
If alternative treatment centers or services are needed, call ahead to any transportation companies you may need to use. Make sure these companies are equipped to provide you with service on the dates and to the locations you require.
Whether you will be seeking care at a different facility or registering for home care for the first time, continue to follow the recommended guidelines for hand hygiene, disinfecting your home and social distancing.
As the situation unfolds and more people seek medical care, the quality of services and options you may be accustomed to at your treatment center could be limited.
Visiting hours for friends and families may be limited or restricted.
There may be increased screening procedures and precautions.
You may expect delays in treatment or scheduling appointments.
Medical staff may be reduced, increasing wait times and limiting services.
Supplies, such as medical masks and oxygen, may be limited.
You may be screened at the door to determine if you are symptomatic or have a fever.
Many patients are being asked to wait in their car before being called to come inside.
Patients are restricted from gathering or waiting in lobbies and access to services, such as water or coffee machines, may be limited.
“It is important to maintain contact with your cancer care team to determine the best course of action for you.”— Dr. Len Lichtenfeld Deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society
Limiting contact with other people is the primary way to reduce infection risk. Cancer patients should refrain from close proximity to anyone who may be sick or could have recently come in contact with someone who has coronavirus.
Proper precautions must be taken if physical contact is required for caregiving. Frequent hand-washing is important for caregivers and patients and should be done with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Continue to disinfect any frequently touched objects or surfaces with household cleaning solutions.
A replacement caregiver should be appointed if the primary caregiver is experiencing any symptoms or has been exposed to anyone ill. If an alternative caregiver is not available, contact your physician about making arrangements for a visit or possible home health care services.
In most cases, your oncologist will handle clinical research trial activities as they would regular care and treatment schedules will be at the discretion of your provider. Any nonessential appointments with research staff, such as questionnaires or research-specific blood work, may be postponed or canceled.
Experimental medication available through clinical trials may be affected. As more personnel enter quarantine, shipments of medications may be delayed or simply unavailable. The research staff will inform you and your physician of any potential interruptions in treatment during this time and provide you with options.
If your medication becomes unavailable or a treatment delay would be too long, it is likely your physician will temporarily switch you to conventional treatment until the clinical trial resumes operation.
Chemotherapy compromises the immune system and increases the risk of infection. For this reason, it is essential to follow strict hand-washing and social distancing guidelines from the CDC and WHO.
If you are actively receiving chemotherapy during the COVID-19 pandemic, speak with your treatment center staff and physicians to ensure they are taking all precautions necessary to protect you from transmission. Ask about their policy for keeping sick employees home and whether they have the proper protective equipment to serve you without risking your health.
Patients receiving chemotherapy should stay at home at all times except when treatment is required. Delivery and other online services can assist with groceries and other tasks when needed. Staying home during this period is crucial to preventing infection.
In most cases, your physician or mesothelioma specialist will withhold chemotherapy or other cancer treatments to give your body the best chance at fighting a coronavirus infection.
Treatments such as radiation therapy may take over six weeks to complete while some chemotherapy patients receive treatment continuously to prevent cancer recurrence. These prolonged treatment periods offer windows where it is generally safe to postpone or withhold treatment for one to two months.
Patients undergoing radiation therapy alone are likely to have their treatment schedule adjusted to allow for fewer visits through hypofractionation. This process allows radiation oncologists to deliver the same amount of radiation across fewer treatments and reduce the risk of infection with frequent visits to the treatment center. This technique isn’t recommended for patients undergoing chemoradiation.
The coronavirus pandemic is a frightening time for everyone. Many things may seem uncertain, and the country is scrambling to figure out a new way of life.
However, in this time of crisis, we can choose to continue living healthy and meaningful lives. Strength and support from our friends and families will guide us through this period in history, and we can grow better from it.
There are more opportunities now than before to focus on making healthy choices and discover better ways of living. Concentrating your energy on a positive outlook will give you the resolve you need to persevere.
Taking steps to care for your emotional and mental well-being during the coronavirus pandemic can start with eating the right foods. Cancer survivors who develop healthy eating habits are proven to have a better quality of life and better treatment outcomes.
The American Cancer Society recommends these steps to improve nutrition:
Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables
Fewer processed meats and red meats
Fewer sweets and drinking less alcohol
Substituting with whole grains and brown rice
Being at home more is a good time to experiment with cooking and trying new recipes. If you have the need to snack throughout the day, consider fresh fruit or mixed nuts. When ordering delivery while staying at home, look up the menu beforehand for healthy options.
According to the American Cancer Society, adults should aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes of high-intensity, activity each week.
Moderate-intensity activity includes exercise such as a brisk walk, which should make you breathe hard. Vigorous activities increase your heart rate substantially and will make you sweat as you use large muscle groups.
If you are working from home, consider walking around while you take phone calls or respond to emails. When sitting down for work, you can do leg lifts or bicep curls. Set an alarm to take a break every hour for a quick walk or stretches.
Other ideas for activity at home:
Walk up and down the stairs in your home
Do squats while cleaning or playing with your pet
Walk outside in a less populated area
Search the internet or social media for exercise routines
Play music and dance around the house
Take care of yard work or home projects
“I am trying to stay positive, but this isolation and inability to see doctors in a time like this with my situation is very scary and mentally taking a toll.”— Raeleen Minchuk Five-year peritoneal mesothelioma survivor