What does COVID-19 mean for someone affected by bowel cancer?

If you or someone you know has bowel cancer, your concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to extend beyond toilet paper shortages and low pasta supplies.

That’s especially true for bowel cancer patients who are undergoing or have recently completed chemotherapy or immunotherapy, because the likelihood of becoming seriously ill if infected with COVID-19 is much higher, due to a weakened immune system that is less able to fight infection.


How does COVID-19 spread?

Infection with the COVID-19 virus can occur quickly following direct close contact with someone while they are infectious (even if they aren’t symptomatic).

Brief contact with respiratory droplets when a person with the virus sneezes or coughs, or touching objects or surfaces that have the virus on it and then touching your face or mouth is all it takes to become infected.


What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can be mild to severe, lasting from just 2 to 14 days, and include:

  • fever or chills
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • muscle or body aches
  • headache
  • new loss of taste or smell
  • congestion or runny nose
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhoea

What can I do? 10 practical tips to protect yourself and those you love

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds frequently throughout the day. Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitiser with you and use it when hand washing is not possible.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze, use a tissue and then throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow (not your hands).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands as this can transfer the virus from surfaces.
  • Keep your surroundings clean – it’s a good idea to regularly clean and disinfect high traffic surfaces and objects like kitchen tops, door handles and children’s toys.
  • Keep up healthy habits – eat well, sleep, exercise and drink plenty of water.
  • Plan to work from home if possible, to reduce unnecessary exposure.
  • Avoid or limit the use of public transport.
  • Avoid crowds and crowded areas and maintain social distancing outside of the home environment by leaving at least one metre distance between yourself and other people.
  • Create a plan in case you get sick. Are there friends, family or neighbours you can reach out to?
  • Ask your doctor whether you should have a flu shot.

5 tips just for patients

  • If you have recently completed or are currently undergoing treatment, let family and friends know that you are at increased risk of infection and ask them to refrain from visiting if they are unwell or sick or have been exposed to the virus.
  • Ensure you have adequate groceries, medications and other essential supplies if you’re planning to stay home to reduce risk of exposure.
  • If you have a carer, make plans for a backup in case they get sick.
  • Discuss the option of teleconferencing with your treatment team. On 11 March 2020 the Australian Government announced funding for bulk-billed video-conference consultation services, which can be provided by GPs, specialists, consultant physicians, consultant psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and allied mental health workers for vulnerable people including those aged over 70, people isolating themselves at home on the advice of a medical practitioner, people with chronic health conditions or who are immunocompromised.
  • If you must attend appointments in clinic, arrive as close to your appointment time as possible to reduce waiting room congestion.

Where can I go for help?

Providing emotional support as well as practical tips for minimising the risk of infection during this time, our Bowel Care Nurses and Nutritionist are here to help if you are feeling anxious, have questions or need support.

Click here to contact us or call the free Helpline Monday – Friday on 1800 555 494.

If you are having chemotherapy and develop a fever, you may be neutropenic, and should follow the process that your treating team has put in place for you.

Contact your doctor immediately if you are concerned about your treatment or if you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19 or begin experiencing symptoms.

If you have serious symptoms it is important you seek urgent medical attention straight away. Call 000 for an ambulance.

To find out more about COVID-19 visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.

You can also contact the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080