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Breast Cancer & Coronavirus (COVID-19)

If you have previously been treated for breast cancer, you might be feeling anxious about what this coronavirus outbreak means for you. You might have questions like, “Am I higher risk?”, or “What will happen if I get the virus?”, or you may be worried for a family member or friend who has a history of breast cancer too. For up to date information please check the NHS website and

Most importantly, if your age and other factors do not put you at a higher risk, then even if you have been treated for breast cancer with surgery, radiotherapy, or endocrine therapy, there is no suggestion that you are at a higher risk of developing severe form of COVID-19. It is possible that prior whole breast radiotherapy, which can include part of the heart and lung could theoretically pose a higher risk of complications of COVID-19, but this is not yet thought to be of concern. For more information please see Cancer Research UK.

If you have found a new lump in your breast, have a suspicion of breast cancer, or you are currently being treated for breast cancer, you might be worried how the treatment would be completed. The British Association of Cancer Surgery (BASO-ACS) have prepared guidance for pragmatic management of breast cancer during the COVID-19 crisis. This is meant for health care professionals who will use it in conjunction with other guidelines, and it is available online here.

What is coronavirus?

COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019) is the disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus (SARS-CoV2) first known to affect humans in late 2019. Viruses work by infecting cells in your body and using human cell machinery (so to speak) to replicate themselves. In the process, they can also damage human cells. Infection with this particular coronavirus can be completely without symptoms. In most people, it causes mild symptoms, similar to that of a cold. But in a small but significant proportion of people who get infected, it can cause severe respiratory illness. It’s important to know, especially if you currently or previously have had a cancer diagnosis, how to best look after yourself during this time.

Common symptoms of coronavirus

  • Up to 25% of people infected with SARS-CoV2 do not have any symptoms

  • Around 50% of coronavirus patients experience a fever (high temperature)

  • Body ache

  • A new dry or productive cough that is persistent

  • shortness of breath

  • dry throat,

  • feeling lethargic, sad or weepy

  • loss of smell (anosmia) is a newly recognized and common symptom along with

  • change in the sensation of taste (dysgeusia)

People with cancer who are more at risk of coronavirus

A previous diagnosis of breast cancer does not necessarily make you more at risk of being severely ill from coronavirus, but many cancer treatments (particularly while taking chemotherapy) can have profound effects on the body’s immune system, making it weaker and not as strong when fighting viral infections.

The following outlines the comprehensive list put together by Macmillan Cancer Support for all cancer patients, and if you are currently receiving treatment for breast cancer or had any of these treatments recently, you should be careful and take all precautions seriously. People who are more at risk of having a severe case of coronavirus are:

  • Anyone currently having

  • Anyone currently having

  • Anyone having other treatments for their cancer which may weaken the immune system, e.g.

  • Anyone currently having (for cancer of the lung)

  • Anyone with cancer of the blood or bone marrow

  • Anyone taking or who have had (in the previous six months)

If you fall into a high-risk group and live in the UK you should have received a letter advising you to stay at home for 12 weeks.

Following the recommended hygiene and social distancing measures

It can be difficult to change your lifestyle so suddenly, and rules are changing each day. That said, if you fall into any of the above groups it is paramount that you follow these measures and take extra precautions. For example:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm running water.

  • Do not touch your face, mouth, and eyes.

  • Disinfect surfaces and anything that enters your house such as groceries or online orders.

  • 0.1% hypochlorite solution (using household bleach) is a good surface disinfectant

  • Washing including good scrubbing with soap or diluted detergent for 20 seconds generally inactivates the virus.

  • Avoid all contact with anyone with symptoms of COVID-19

  • Only leave your home for important appointments with your doctor or medical team, who can advise you on which appointments these are

  • Ask other members of your house or close family to shop on your behalf, order online, and do the same for your prescriptions.

  • Do not initiate or participate in any social gatherings

  • Keep in touch with your GP if you have any concerns about your health

Video or telephone consultations are now possible with your specialist

Follow Prof Vaidya on twitter @jsvaidya


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