Coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 is an infectious illness caused by a type of coronavirus. The virus can affect your breathing or respiratory system. Symptoms can vary, some people have mild symptoms others have severe symptoms.

The virus spreads when someone with the virus coughs, sneezes, talks, or sings. This releases tiny droplets into the air. These droplets can reach anyone nearby, and they can get the virus.

Am I at more risk of becoming unwell with COVID-19 because I have cancer?

Some people with cancer are at a higher risk of complications. This is because cancer and its treatment can weaken your immune system Open a glossary item. This means you are less able to fight infections. The immune system protects your body against infections caused by viruses like coronavirus.

Some types of cancer can also lower your ability to fight infection. This is usually cancer that affects your immune system, such as leukaemia Open a glossary item or lymphoma Open a glossary item.

The information on this page is for adults with cancer. Please visit the Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG) website for coronavirus information for children with cancer.

Symptoms of COVID-19

You can read more about the symptoms of coronavirus infection on the NHS website.

If you are having cancer treatment or have had it, or have a cancer that affects your immune system, reach out for support if you:

  • have symptoms of coronavirus
  • feel unwell

You can contact:

  • your chemotherapy helpline
  • the Acute Oncology Service at your hospital

Your healthcare team will assess you over the phone and might ask you to stay at home.  

Call 999 immediately if you are feeling very ill.

If you have symptoms but are not having cancer treatment, you can look at the NHS coronavirus information or call NHS 111.  

How do I protect myself from coronavirus if I have cancer?

If you have a weakened immune system, you are at higher risk of getting unwell with an infection. You should protect yourself from coronavirus in the same way as you would against other infections. Follow the advice from your healthcare team for your situation.

You can read more general information about protecting yourself against coronavirus. Follow the link to your part of the UK at the bottom of this page.

Treatment for COVID-19

People most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 can have treatment with antiviral and antibody drugs. This includes people with a weakened immune system, such as those:

  • having certain cancer treatments
  • with a blood cancer

The drugs include:

How to get a COVID-19 treatment?

Follow the links lower down on this page to your part of the country for more information on how to get a COVID-19 treatment.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine and cancer

A vaccine is a type of medicine. It trains the body's immune system Open a glossary item to fight a disease it has not come into contact with before. For infectious illnesses, vaccines try to prevent people from becoming ill with a disease.

Specialists say that it is important for people with cancer to have the vaccine, and it is safe.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved the below vaccines for use if you haven’t had one before. For all of these vaccines you have 2 doses 8 weeks apart. The type of vaccine you have depends on a number of factors including availability. 

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Novavax

If you're about to start treatment that will cause a weakened immune system

You may need extra protection against coronavirus if you are about to start treatment that severely weakens your immune system. Your doctor will be able to tell you what type of vaccine to have and when to have it.

If you have severe allergies

If you can't have the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines due to allergies, you might be able to have the Novavax or Sanofi vaccines. 

Talk to your GP or healthcare team if you have questions about your situation.

The autumn 2023 booster programme

An autumn 2023 booster programme started in September.

The vaccines used in the booster programme include:

  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • Novavax
  • Sanofi

These vaccines have been updated and target different strains or variants of coronavirus.

The Sanofi vaccine contains an adjuvant. This is a chemical that helps to improve the immune response to the virus. 

Which vaccine you'll get will depend on your circumstances and availability.

Who can have the autumn 2023 booster jab?

The autumn booster COVID-19 jab is available to:

  • people in a care home for older adults
  • people 65 years and over
  • those aged six months to 64 years whose health condition put them at higher risk, including some people with cancer
  • front line health and social care workers
  • anyone aged 12 to 64 years who lives in the same house as someone with a weakened immune system
  • anyone aged 16 to 64 years who are carers and staff working in care homes for older adults

How do I book an appointment for the autumn 2023 booster?

To book an appointment for the autumn 2023 booster, follow the link to your part of the UK at the bottom of this page.

Vaccine side effects

Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

A very small number of people have had anaphylaxis when receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. If you have a history of an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the COVID-19 vaccine, you should not have it. You may have it if an expert says it is safe.

If you have any other allergies, such as a food allergy, including a previous anaphylaxis, you can have the vaccine.

Swollen lymph nodes

A side effect of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines is lymph node swelling. You might have swollen lymph nodes in the armpit of the arm you had the vaccine in. A review of research shows that swelling can last around 5 weeks in some people. Talk to your doctor if you are worried about swollen lymph nodes.

Other side effects

People are often worried about the side effects of vaccines. Your healthcare team or GP will be able to give you advice about your situation. It is best to do this before going for the vaccine.

The person giving you the vaccine will also give you advice. They will talk to you about the general side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines.

How well do the vaccines work for people with cancer?

Several studies have now published results on how well the vaccines work for people with cancer. In general, these studies show that if you have a weakened immune system, you might have less protection against the virus.

People with blood cancer, in particular, have less protection. This is when compared to people with solid cancers.

Protection against the virus increases with each dose for people with blood cancer. A recent study showed that after 4 doses of the jab, most people with a blood cancer had antibodies to help them fight COVID-19.

You can read more on the Blood Cancer UK website on how well the vaccines work for people with a blood cancer.

COVID-19 vaccine and cancer treatment

Specialists say that everyone having systemic anti cancer therapy (SACT) should be considered for the vaccine. Systemic anti cancer therapy includes treatments such as chemotherapy. It can cause a weakened immune system.

Your cancer treatment can also go ahead if you've had the vaccine. There is no need for your treatment to be delayed because of it.

When you can have the vaccine will depend on your type of treatment and where you are in your treatment plan.

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse for specific advice for your circumstances.

More information

The links below have more information on coronavirus in your part of the UK.


NHS inform has further information about the coronavirus for people living in Scotland.

The Scottish Government website has the latest guidance for people living in Scotland.


Public Health Wales has information and guidance for people living in Wales. Information is also available in Welsh.

The Welsh government website also has the latest guidance for people living in Wales.

Northern Ireland

The Public Health Agency has information for people living in Northern Ireland.

The government in Northern Ireland has the latest guidance on its website for people living in Northern Ireland.


The NHS website has all the latest information about the coronavirus and how to protect yourself.

The government website has the latest guidance for people living in England.

  • COVID-19 - SARS-CoV-2: The Greenbook, Chapter 14a
    Public Health England
    First published: 27 November 2020 and regularly updated on the GOV.UK website

  • Lymphadenopathy post-COVID-19 vaccination with increased FDG uptake may be falsely attributed to oncological disorders: A systematic review

    K Bshesh and others

    Journal of  Medical Virology. 2022. Volume 94. Pages 1833 to1845

  • Functional immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern after fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose or infection in patients with blood cancer

    A Fendler and others

    Cell Reports Medicine, 2022. Volume 3, Issue 10, Page: 100781

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. If you need additional references for this information please contact with details of the particular risk or cause you are interested in.

Last reviewed: 
31 Aug 2023
Next review due: 
28 Feb 2023

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