Cancer and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

For adult patients only. For children and teens, refer to the IWK Health Centre Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Immunocompromised Patients COVID Information Sheet.

The Nova Scotia Health Cancer Care Program understands that Nova Scotians having cancer treatment, cancer survivors and their families and friends may have questions about the outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19).

If you are undergoing cancer treatment, your immune system may not be as strong as it is normally. You may feel concerned about the risks associated with COVID-19 and how it may affect your cancer care plans.

Your Cancer Care Team is working very hard to keep you safe and follow recommendations from Public Health. We will contact you if your upcoming appointment can be rescheduled or changed to a phone or video appointment. This will reduce the need for you to go out into public. 

If you are having any cancer related symptoms call your cancer care team. 

 

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus that can cause mild to severe infections in the lungs. Like other viruses, it can lead to serious infections for people with weakened immune systems. COVID-19 may cause more severe infections than other viruses. We do not have a vaccine to help control its spread, but researchers are working to develop one.
 
The virus can spread easily, just like the common cold or flu. It spreads when an infected person coughs or sneezes droplets that can get into the eyes, nose, or mouth of people nearby. Droplets also land on surfaces that people touch before touching their own eyes, nose, or mouth.

How can I protect myself?

Visit the Government of Nova Scotia COVID-19 website to learn the latest ways to help protect yourself.
 
If you are currently having treatment for cancer or living with someone who is currently having treatment for cancer, here are some extra steps you can take to protect yourself:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Ask someone else to run your errands for you so you do not have to go out in public; such as grocery and prescription pick up. You may also be able to have things delivered to your house.
  • Always practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet (2 metres) away from anyone you do not live with.
  • Wear a mask if you are in public areas where it is difficult to adhere to social distancing. 
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick or at the risk of being exposed to COVID-19.
  • Be as healthy as you can. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, exercise and manage your stress
  • Stop smoking.
    • Tobacco-Free Nova Scotia offers personalized and non-judgmental support to help you quit and stay quit. Whether you are thinking about quitting or having some setbacks, trained counsellors can help you each step of the way. All services are free and confidential. You can find out all about the supports offered at Tobacco-Free N.S. on their website at https://tobaccofree.novascotia.ca/ 

I feel sick and am worried it might be COVID-19. What should I do?

Cancer Patients on Systemic Therapy with Yellow or Orange Alert Card 
If you have a fever of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher and/or develop a new cough or shortness of breath go directly to the Emergency Department (ED). For any other symptoms, during the regular work week, call your cancer team. During the weekend or after hours, contact 811 via phone or online at 811.novascotia.ca/
 
Other Cancer Patients currently receiving Radiation or Systemic Therapy treatment without Yellow or Orange Alert Card
If you develop a fever of 38°C (100.4°F) or higher, a new or worsening cough or shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose or headache and it is during the regular workweek, call your cancer team. During the weekend or after hours, contact 811 via phone or online at 811.novascotia.ca/  
 
Patients with Cancer or a History of Cancer and Not Currently on Treatment
If you have a fever greater than 38°C (100.4°F) a new or worsening cough or shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose or headache, please contact 811 via phone or online at 811.novascotia.ca/
 
If you have previously received Radiation Therapy to the chest (lung or breast) and have tested negative for COVID-19 but still have a cough or shortness of breath and/or fever, please contact your Radiation Oncologist during the regular workweek at 902-473-6067 (Halifax) or 902-567-7771 (Sydney).
 
If you are having difficulty breathing or any symptoms that you are unable to manage at home, please go directly to the Emergency Department or call 911. 

I have been tested for COVID-19. What should I do now?

If you are currently receiving treatment for your cancer, or are being followed by a cancer care team, call your team to let them know you have been tested for COVID-19. Also, call your cancer care team with any COVID-19 test results.
 
If you have been tested for COVID-19 and are waiting for results, you should monitor yourself for symptoms (self-monitor) and self-isolate at home. You should receive a call from Public Health once your test results are known. For more information on self-monitoring and self-isolation, please visit the Government of Nova Scotia COVID-19 website.

I have cancer, should I wear a mask?

Nova Scotia Health is now requiring patients, visitors, and essential support people to wear a non-medical mask when in hospitals and other health care facilities.
 
You can choose to wear a non-medical mask in public settings, like when you are grocery shopping or using public transit. 
 
Masks are another measure that can reduce COVID-19 spread. The main role is to protect others from your respiratory secretions. There are many questions about the use of non-medical masks, especially given recent recommendations from public health authorities for their use in certain situations.
 
For more information, you may like to read the Nova Scotia Health Non-medical Masks FAQ
 
As always, we remind you that guidance is expected to change as the pandemic evolves. We continually monitor the spread of COVID-19 provincially and discuss what we are seeing with Public Health.
 
 

Can I bring someone with me to my cancer care appointment?

At this time, we are following Public Health recommendations and ask that you come to your appointment alone. We know the importance of support during your cancer treatment and we will work with you to involve your support people by phone or video during any of your visits with us. This helps us ensure that we can provide the appropriate social and physical distancing between you and other patients in our waiting areas.
 
If it is your first appointment with an oncologist, you can bring one adult support person with you. 
 
If you or your loved one have unique care needs such as mobility concerns or have a designated substitute decision maker, and feel that you cannot come to your appointment alone, please contact your cancer care team to discuss your concerns.
 

How will the cancer system protect me during this time?

Before your appointment, your care team will phone you to ask questions about your health. We may ask some patients to wait in a separate room or to reschedule until they are feeling better if they have symptoms.
 
We are also taking extra steps to clean and disinfect surfaces throughout hospitals and clinics. We provide hand sanitizers throughout all hospitals and can provide masks to patients who have respiratory symptoms such as cough.
 

What should I expect to be different at my cancer care appointment?

We are committed to you and your care during this challenging time.
  • Some appointments may be rescheduled or changed to a phone or video appointment. This will reduce the need for you to go out into public. 
  • You will need to wear a non-medical mask at your appointment. 
  • You will see hospital and cancer care staff wearing masks. 
  • We are asking that you arrive at your scheduled appointment time and not early. 
  • We will make sure that you are sitting at least 6 feet (2 metres) apart from other patients in the waiting areas.
  • If you need American Sign Language or language service interpreters for your appointment, please call your cancer care team ahead of your appointment. 

Lodging

Please let your cancer care team know if you need a place to stay during your cancer treatment. The team will make arrangements for you.

I have prescriptions that need to be filled. What do I need to know?

During the pandemic, community pharmacies in Nova Scotia may experience increased prescription requests, may be working with less staff and reduced hours. This means you may have to wait longer to have your prescription filled. 
 
These steps will assist you to fill your prescription:
  • Ask your health provider if they can faxed or phone your prescription directly to your preferred pharmacy. 
  • Plan ahead. Allow up to 48 hours for community pharmacies to fill your prescriptions. If you would like your medications to be blister packed, allow 72 hours notice.  
  • Ask your pharmacy if they have a delivery service.  This will reduce unnecessary trips.
  • Phone the pharmacy before you pick up your prescription to ensure it is ready. 
For questions about your prescriptions, please contact your community pharmacy and ask to speak to a pharmacist. 
 

I am struggling with worry and anxiety, what can I do, where can I get support?

It is understandable to feel anxious and concerned at this time given the current situation. You can help yourself by:
  • Staying informed by listening to trusted sources of news like the Nova Scotia Health Authority, Government of Nova Scotia and Health Canada.
  • Limiting your time watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media, hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Taking care of your body: Taking slow deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
  • Eating healthy, well-balanced meals, be physically active, get plenty of sleep
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs.
  • Making time to relax by focusing on yourself and doing activities you enjoy.
  • Connecting with others, talking with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Maintaining a sense of hope and keep things in perspective
If you are having a lot of difficulty coping with worry and anxiety, please call the local number below for information and support:
  • Halifax Regional Municipality: 902-240-8129
  • Cape Breton: 902-567-8551
  • Antigonish/Guysborough/Richmond and South Eastern Inverness: 902-863-2830 Ext 4707
  • Yarmouth/Shelburne/Digby: 902-749-1523
  • Lunenburg and Queens County: 902-527-5820 or email Chantal.boudreau@nshealth.ca
  • Kings/Annapolis County: 902-690-3700
  • For all other parts of the province call toll-free: 1-866-599-2267
Other supports which are not cancer patient specific but may be helpful: 

Find more information about coping with COVID-19 related stress and anxiety in the Learn More section on this page.

Is quitting or trying to quit smoking important for cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Yes. Stopping tobacco use increases the effectiveness of cancer treatment by between 30 and 40 percent.  This means quitting or trying to quit smoking and other kinds of tobacco use is important for cancer patients at any time.  
 
Many cancer patients have weaker immune systems due to the cancer itself, or because of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. For this reason, cancer patients may be at increased risk to develop COVID-19. Research suggests that those who develop COVID-19 and smoke may have more severe symptoms. The COVID-19 pandemic is another reason to try to quit smoking.    
 
For support to reduce or quit tobacco:
Tobacco-Free Nova Scotia offers personalized and non-judgmental support to help you quit and stay quit. Whether you are thinking about quitting or having some setbacks, trained counsellors can help you each step of the way. All services are free and confidential. You can find out all about the supports offered at Tobacco-Free N.S. on their website at https://tobaccofree.novascotia.ca/ 
 
Additional support information on smoking cessation for cancer patients is located on the Nova Scotia Health library guides page. https://library.nshealth.ca/Cancer/StoppingTobaccoUse
 

Temporary suspension of the Colon Cancer Prevention Program

For updated information on this program reintroduction please visit: Cancer Care Program service reintroductions
 

Temporary suspension of the Cervical Cancer Prevention Program (routine Pap test)

For updated information on this program reintroduction please visit: Cancer Care Program service reintroductions

Learn more