Cancer and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The NSHA 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 and the illness it causes, COVID-19. 

If you have cancer your immune system may not be as strong as it is normally so you may feel concerned about the risks associated with COVID-19. 

Your Cancer Care Team is working very hard to keep you safe and follow recommendations from public health. We will contact you if there are any changes to your upcoming appointment such as having it delayed or changed to a phone or video appointment to lessen the need for you to go out into public. 

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

Temporary suspension of the Colon Cancer Prevention Program

As NSHA focuses its efforts on managing the COVID 19 pandemic, we are suspending the Colon Cancer Prevention Program until further notice. This means:

  • Home screening kits will not be mailed out.
  • Home screening kits already at the lab and those that are already in the mail will be processed, but the results will not be mailed. 
  • Participants looking for their screening result may call 1-866-599-2267 and leave their name and health card number. Someone will return their call. 
  • Participants who test positive for trace amounts of blood in the stool will be notified by a screening nurse who will answer questions and ease concerns; however, appointments for follow-up colonoscopies will not be scheduled until the screening program has restarted.
  • All screening colonoscopies which are currently booked will be cancelled until further notice.
  • NSHA is contacting scheduled patients and clients directly to notify them of cancellations
  • Nova Scotians who have received but have not yet done the home screening test should wait until the screening program resumes operations.
  • Nova Scotians who have worrying symptoms of colon cancer will be directed to speak with their primary care provider.

View the temporary suspension of the Colon Cancer Prevention program FAQ

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a new type of corona virus 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 make a vaccine.

How does COVID-19 spread?

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?

These are some of the best ways to protect yourself and others from the virus:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer with 60% or more alcohol until you can wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often. Regular household wipes and sprays will kill the virus. Be sure to clean places that people touch a lot, such as door handles, phones, keyboards, and light switches.
  • Avoid handshakes, hugging, and standing or sitting close to people who are coughing or sneezing.
  • Be as healthy as you can. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, exercise, and manage your stress.

As a cancer patient, am I more likely to get sick if I get COVID- 19?

If you are currently on cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, you may be at higher risk for more severe symptoms related to COVID-19 because of a lowered immune system. It is best to closely follow recommendations about “how to protect myself” listed above.

What if I am sick?

Cancer Patients on Systemic Therapy with Yellow or Orange Card
If you have a fever of 38C or higher when you are home after your cancer treatment, and/or develop a new cough or shortness of breath present to the Emergency Department (ED) directly.

  1. Self-identify at the door that you are a cancer patient on active treatment
  2. Present your yellow/orange alert card
  3. Wash your hands and put on a mask while waiting to be triaged and treated

If you get turned away from the ED, call hospital locating at 902-473-2222 (mainland Nova Scotia) or 902-567-8000 (Cape Breton) and ask for the oncologist/hematology-oncologist on call.

Cancer Patients Not on Systemic Therapy (not instructed to carry a Yellow or Orange Card):
If you are not on systemic therapy (not instructed to carry a yellow or orange card) and you develop a fever of 38C or higher, and it is during the regular work week, call your cancer team.

If you have flu-like symptoms 

If you have symptoms of infection, such as fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, and you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, or if you have travelled or been in contact with someone who has travelled outside of Nova Scotia, go to the 811 website, https://811.novascotia.ca/, and complete the self-assessment. If your self-assessment results meet the criteria, call 811 and tell them you are a cancer patient. The 811 nurse will determine if you need to be tested. If you are on treatment for cancer, you can also contact your cancer care team for advice.

What if I am waiting for test results?

If you are on treatment for cancer, please contact your cancer care team to let them know you are awaiting results and let them know when the test results come back. For up to date guidelines on self-monitoring and self-isolation, please visit novascotia.ca/coronavirus/

I have cancer. Should I wear a mask?

If you have a cough or other respiratory symptoms, you should wear a mask to protect others. If you are coming into the hospital, please ask for a mask when you arrive.

Even if you do not have a cough or any other symptoms, you can wear a non-medical mask to protect others around you. Non-medical masks have not been shown to protect the person wearing it.

You can wear a non-medical mask for short amounts of time when social or physical distancing is not easy in public settings, like when you are grocery shopping or using public transit. If you wear a non-medical mask, remember not to touch or rub your eyes. Wash your hands right before putting on a mask and right after taking it off.

For more information on masks and COVID-19, please visit the Government of Canada COVID-19 website

I live with or am a caregiver for someone with cancer. Should I be concerned?

If you are caring for or living with someone with cancer, do your best to keep them from getting the virus.

Follow the steps to protect yourself listed on this sheet and the advice from public health officials.

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

At this time, we are following public health recommendations and request that you come to your appointment alone. If it is your first appointment with an oncologist, you can bring one support person with you. We recognize the importance of support during your cancer treatment and we will work with you to involve your support people via phone or video during any of your visits with us. 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 Center or my local hospital protect me?

NSHA hospitals and clinics are taking steps to keep infected patients away from those who may be at risk. Before your appointment, your care team will phone you to ask questions about overall health and recent travel. 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.

Will my cancer care team still care for me if I get sick?

Yes. Your care is our top priority. Although we may change some ways we care for you, we will never put your care or health at risk.

I am struggling with worry and anxiety. 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 about COVID-19 because you have cancer, 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

Support to stop smoking

Tobacco-Free Nova Scotia offers personalized and non-judgmental support to help you quit and stay quit. Whether you’re 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/ 

Learn more

To learn more visit https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/

Reference: Adapted from the Cancer Council of Australia, Centers for Disease Control and the Canadian Psychological Association.