What Cancer Patients Should Know about COVID-19

Article has been updated on June 10, 2020 to reflect revised information and resources for cancer patients.

Physicians and staff within the division of Hematology and Oncology are committed to protecting the health and safety of our cancer patient community in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). We are here to provide guidance and support during this challenging time, and understand that the current situation may create additional stressors for cancer patients and their loved ones.  

Please know that we remain dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our cancer community. Continuing to provide world-class cancer care for our oncology patients is very important to us and we are still accepting new patients.

As part of our mission to provide care during this unprecedented time, our team has been implementing extensive patient-centered precautions. These include efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our facilities and the expansion of virtual video-based appointments when appropriate. We also provide expert, multidisciplinary care for any patient with cancer who needs medical attention for COVID-19. 

Video Visits allow patients to speak to physicians virtually in order to receive high-quality care from the safety and convenience of their own homes, helping to maintain social distance. Please contact us at (646) 962-2800 to inquire about video visits or schedule a video visit appointment. We are here to answer any questions that you may have.  

Below, we’ve addressed some frequently asked questions to help people with cancer and their loved ones to best navigate this rapidly evolving situation. 

COVID-19 and Cancer: Frequently Asked Questions     

I have heard a lot about immunocompromised status placing people at increased risk for COVID-19. Are all cancer patients immunocompromised and how do I know if I fall in this category?

Cancer patients who are actively undergoing cancer treatment or who have recently completed treatment may be more susceptible to becoming sick with infections, including COVID-19, due to the impact of cancer and its treatments on the immune system. Our healthcare team is available to discuss your specific situation based on individual factors, including your cancer or blood disorder diagnosis, treatment regimen, other existing health conditions, and more.

If you are receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy, cellular therapy or have recently undergone a bone marrow or stem cell transplant, you may need to take additional precautions to prevent infection. Each person is unique and this should be discussed with your care team.

If I'm a patient with confirmed or suspected COVID-19, will I still receive cancer treatment?

As a leading institution caring for patients with all types of health conditions, we are uniquely positioned to provide comprehensive care for our patients who are diagnosed with or suspected to have COVID-19. The Weill Cornell Medicine Division of Hematology & Medical Oncology has created special areas for patients with COVID-19 so that they can continue to receive the care they need separate from our other patients. For some patients with COVID-19, it is safer to delay cancer treatment until the infection has subsided, so this will be evaluated on an individualized basis with your care team.

If you have a fever, cough or shortness of breath, or are otherwise concerned that you may have COVID-19, please contact your physician via phone or video visit before coming in for an appointment. This is a very important step you can take to protect your health and the health of others in our community. You may also call our hotline for more information on COVID-19 at (646) 697-4000. 

Do cancer patients show different COVID-19 symptoms?

Reported COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough or shortness of breath, and may be mild to severe. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) believes that symptoms may appear within 2 to 14 days of exposure.   

Cancer patients, like other people impacted by the coronavirus, may experience mild to severe symptoms. If you feel you are experiencing symptoms, call your oncology provider’s office or our COVID-19 hotline at (646) 697-4000 for guidance.   

What special precautions can cancer patients take to protect themselves against COVID-19?  

Cancer patients should follow the CDC’s recommendations to help prevent infection and stop the spread of coronavirus. 

Do not underestimate the power of a full night’s sleep (7 to 8 hours), aerobic exercise (preferably at home or outdoors, versus a gym) and a balanced diet (with plenty of fruits and vegetables) for bolstering the immune system. 

How can I make sure I am taking the appropriate precautions when shopping for groceries? 

If you are not feeling well, or have any COVID-19 symptoms, it’s best to avoid leaving your home. Instead, order groceries to be delivered or ask for help from family, neighbors, friends, or others. If you are feeling well and not exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms, be sure to wear a mask or face covering and practice social distancing guidelines when shopping for groceries and other essentials. Wash your hands thoroughly when you return home. Be mindful if your store has designated hours for seniors and those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to infection. Also, try to stock up on two weeks’ worth of food for your household which can help minimize trips to the store.   

You may wish to take extra precautions with your groceries by:  

  • Disinfecting any hard surfaces that someone else may have touched, such as the cereal’s cardboard box  
  • Taking food out of the packaging from the store and putting it into clean containers from your home  

  • Washing all produce immediately in warm water for at least 20 seconds   

Additional information can be found in this Weill Cornell Medicine article containing Tips for New Yorkers During PAUSE. 

Are there additional precautions I should take when cleaning my clothes? 

Many New Yorkers are not able to do laundry at home, so laundromats remain open and available throughout PAUSE. While in a communal laundry setting, be sure to practice social distancing and wash your hands multiple times. Disinfect any hard surface before placing clean clothes on it. Wash your clothing with the warmest water possible. For some clothing and bedding, consider using a detergent with a bleach compound that will destroy the virus. You may also want to consider changing your clothes immediately after coming home from a public space, such as the grocery store, to help minimize spreading the virus in your home.

Additional information can be found in this Weill Cornell Medicine article containing Tips for New Yorkers During PAUSE. 

Are you currently accepting new patients?

A cancer diagnosis can feel scary at any time, but people recently diagnosed with cancer should not feel alone during this difficult time. Our Weill Cornell Medicine cancer experts are here for you and still accepting new patients for both initial consultations and second opinions.  

Our team has been implementing extensive patient-centered precautions as part of our commitment to continue to provide cancer care and prevent the spread of COVID-19 at our facilities. We have also expanded our video-based appointment capabilities, as telehealth can be a great resource for many cancer patients. Additionally, we are still able to provide telephone consults and to facilitate work-ups and referrals when needed. Please contact us at (646) 962-2800 to inquire about making an appointment or scheduling a video visit.

Should cancer patients attend appointments as usual?   

Weill Cornell Medicine is taking a number of precautionary steps to minimize the risk of exposure to our patients and community.   

Our hematologists and oncologists offer video visits when appropriate. Many routine visits, consultations and follow-up visits with our providers have already been rescheduled or converted to video visits.   

Video visits allow patients to receive high-quality care from the safety and convenience of their own homes, while adhering to social distancing recommendations to minimize exposure to other individuals.  

To schedule a video visit, please follow the instructions below.  

  • New PatientsCall (646) 962-2800, and ask to schedule a video visit with your preferred physician.  
  • Existing Patients - Call your physician’s office, and ask to schedule a video visit. 

Please be aware that the location of some in-person infusion or treatment visits may change. Your healthcare team will be in touch with you if this is the case for your visit.  

Can patients’ family and friends attend in-person appointments? 

While we recognize the value of family and friends’ support throughout cancer diagnosis and treatment, keeping patients and their loved ones safe from coronavirus infection requires temporary changes to our visitor policies. Read our current visitation guidelines.   

What should cancer patients do if they think that they have been infected?  

If you have COVID-19 symptoms or suspect that you have been in contact with someone with COVID-19, contact your doctor for further instruction. If you need in-person medical attention, your doctor will advise you regarding the necessary steps and preparations to protect you and others at the facility before you arrive.   

Please do not visit your doctor’s office or the emergency department without first being in touch with your healthcare team.  

Our patients are welcome to call our hotline at (646) 697-4000 with questions at any time.  

For More Information

cancer cast icon

Please listen to the latest podcast episode of CancerCast featuring Drs. John Leonard and Adrienne Phillips, M.D., M.P.H. about "Cancer in the Time of COVID-19."

The United States healthcare system’s response to COVID-19 is continually adapting to meet the best interest of public health and safety. For the most up-to-date information and guidelines related to COVID-19, please call Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital’s COVID-19 hotline – (646) 697-4000 – or visit nyc.gov/health/coronavirus or cdc.gov/coronavirus.

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