COVID-19 and Immunosuppression: What to Know If You Have Cancer


The new coronavirus (COVID-19) is posing a challenge for cancer patients and cancer survivors who are immunosuppressed (immunocompromised). Cancer – and the therapies used to treat it – often weakens the immune system, reducing the body’s ability to fight infections like COVID-19. This challenge is made even greater due to the fact that, while the nation is being told to stay home to decrease the spread of the virus, many cancer patients still need to go out to receive their therapies.

If you’re currently being treated for cancer or still seeing your cancer care team for follow-up appointments take heart that your providers are doing the right things to protect you during the COVID-19 outbreak. According to Dr. Doug Flora, Executive Medical Director of Oncology Services at St. Elizabeth, “Our healthcare team and providers are not letting this change our overarching goal, which remains to provide cancer treatments to the patients we serve, as safely as possible.” To this end, St. Elizabeth Cancer Care has expanded care options, taking every precaution to ensure patient safety. Depending on your treatment plan and appointment reason, you may be contacted about using a Video Visit to leverage your own phone, tablet or computer to communicate with your care team and limit the risk of infection.  

Your doctors might recommend delaying your treatment or rescheduling your appointments. If this option is offered, it is only after your providers have reviewed your case and deemed this to be safe and appropriate to do so. These decisions are not taken lightly – you and your doctor will work together to decide what’s best for your health.

If it’s decided that your treatments should continue, ask your care team how they plan to protect you from the coronavirus while you’re in their facilities. And read the tips below for more ways to stay healthy.

Health precautions to follow

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that those at high risk for severe complications from COVID-19 do the following to protect themselves:

  • If the virus is spreading in your community, stay home as much as possible to reduce your risk of being exposed.
  • Wash your hands often, and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with others, especially those who are sick (maintain a distance of about 6 feet).
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched frequently.
  • Avoid all cruise travel and nonessential air travel.
  • If you have symptoms of COVID-19 or have concerns about the virus, call your doctor for guidance. Do not leave home unless you need emergency care.

Visit the CDC’s website to read more about how to protect yourself.

Mind your mental health

Don’t forget to take care of your mental health during this time. Both the uncertainty of the outbreak and the isolation that comes with staying at home may affect your mood. Look for ways to cope with any stress or anxiety you may feel:

  • Try to get some physical activity every day – look for free fitness videos online, go for a walk outside if you can or just turn on some music and dance.
  • Keep talking to family and friends on the phone or via video chat.
  • Work on your favorite hobbies or read a book.
  • Take moments to breathe, stretch and quiet your mind.
  • Cook healthy meals using ingredients like frozen and root vegetables, pasta, and legumes.
  • Limit how often you check the news and social media.

If you think you may be depressed, call your doctor for help.

A note from St. Elizabeth Healthcare

St. Elizabeth Healthcare and St. Elizabeth Physicians continues to provide exceptional, compassionate cancer care while also taking urgent action to keep our patients safe during the coronavirus outbreak. Because cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to this virus, we have implemented new visitor restrictions for all Cancer Care and Infusion Services departments effective March 17, 2020, and until further notice.

If you are a patient of the St. Elizabeth Cancer Care Program, please call your doctor to learn how these new restrictions will affect you. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause your family, but please know these restrictions are designed to keep you healthy and safe.