September 20, 2021

We’ve put together some answers to frequently asked questions about how this current pandemic is affecting cancer treatments. The team at Bowel Cancer NZ are here to provide support. You’re able to contact our nurse by phoning 0800 BCNZ NURSE (226 968) or email: here4you@bowelcancernz.org.nz

(Please remember if you have specific questions, to ask your medical team).

Cancer treatment is essential and will continue at all alert levels.

During the different alert levels, there are some things that will remain the same throughout. These include:

  • Hospitals will be looking to run outpatient appointments virtually where possible (eg, phone conversation or video call). You will be contacted by your cancer centre with the details.
  • If you have treatment scheduled, please attend this as normal unless you hear otherwise from your cancer centre.
  • If you have concerns about travelling or coming to hospital because of your health, please contact your cancer centre before your appointment or treatment.
  • If you are unwell, please phone your cancer centre to let them know.
  • If you are unwell with COVID-19 symptoms, please contact your doctor to discuss being tested for COVID-19.

 

Travelling between cities with differing alert levels

Travelling between boundaries with different levels is allowed for permitted reasons one of which is attending health appointments. Please follow this link for more information.
You will need to carry photo ID (drivers’ licence or similar) and some sort of evidence that you have an appointment to attend e.g. your hospital appointment letter, or message from the cancer centre.

General COVID-19 information

To find the most up-to-date information regarding COVID-19 is the Ministry of Health website.

Simple steps which you can take to help protect against COVID-19 could include:

  • Keep your distance from other people in public.
  • Wash your hands regularly, use soap and water where possible or a sanitizing hand wash otherwise. Also, ensure you keep your hands moisturized to keep skin intact and free from damage.
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow.
  • Wear a mask when out in public, especially at supermarkets, hospitals or any place where numbers of the public are likely to be.
  • Keep a track of where you have been and who you have seen.
  • If you are sick stay at home and call your cancer centre.
  • If you are sick with COVID-19 symptoms ring your doctor or Healthline.

FAQ regarding having treatment and the vaccination

Are people with cancer more vulnerable to COVID-19?

  • Yes, they can be, just as cancer patients can be at greater risk of any sort of infection, especially those undergoing treatment/surgery. It could also be that the symptoms are greater in those with a cancer diagnosis.

I’m currently undergoing treatment, can I still have the vaccine?

  • Yes, you can. Please speak with your treating team (oncologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist) prior as they may want to time the vaccine to be given at a certain time within your cycle. We would also recommend that your whānau and support bubble are all vaccinated to help protect not just you, but others from COVID-19.

I finished my treatment a few weeks/months ago, should I have the vaccine?

  • Yes, you can. Once your treatment has finished your immune system rebounds over time and so it would be safe to have the vaccine. If you have concerns about whether or not you should have the vaccine, please speak with your usual doctor or treating team.

What are the side effects of the vaccine for those with cancer?

  • The general side effects are:
    • pain or swelling at the injection site
    • feeling tired or fatigued
    • headache
    • muscle aches
    • chills
    • joint pain
    • fever
    • redness at the injection site
    • nausea

There is no current evidence that side effects will be more or worse for those undergoing treatment or who have/ had cancer.

Will my bowel cancer treatment be affected?

  • If you are undergoing essential treatment like chemotherapy, radiation or such, your appointment will go ahead. However, you may need to allow more time for scanning in and registering. There may also be time changes as clinics seek to maintain physical distancing and not have too many patients in together. You will likely need to wear your mask and during the higher alert levels, no support person will be able to come in with you. The booking clerk/medical team will contact you regarding any changes.
  • Routine appointments with GP’s or the treating team may be done via telehealth rather than face-to-face, or you will be contacted about rescheduling the appointment.

What should I do if I become unwell or think I may have been exposed to COVID-19?

If you are currently receiving treatment and you become unwell, your medical team will give you information about what to do. If you have a fever and are receiving chemotherapy, you will need to follow the guideline issued when you commenced treatment.

  • It’s safe to come to the hospital. If you are sick the hospital is still the safest place to be.
  • Your GP is available for you if you are unwell and finished treatment. Call them and they may still be able to see you if necessary.
  • You can call Healthline if you have particular questions related to COVID-19 and feel you may have been exposed. They can be contacted on 0800 358 5453.
  • If you have been in contact with a potential COVID-19 place or person of interest, you will still require a swab and to self-isolate until results are back negative.

Will my immunity be affected by treatment?

  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can both impact your body’s ability to fight any infection, and you may well be in some way compromised for several months following the completion of your treatment.
  • Being aware of the signs of any infection, and following the protocols laid out by your team is very important. If you develop a fever, cough or other signs then please contact your medical team promptly to discuss your concerns and get the best advice. Keep regular blood tests as recommended to check white cell counts and keep taking prescribed medications. If you are wanting to add supplements, please check with your treating team prior to ensure they will not interfere with their therapies.

I’ve had lymph nodes removed as part of my surgery; will this impact my immunity?

  • Generally speaking, having had nodes removed will not impact greatly on your overall immunity.
  • If you are worried about this, please speak with your medical team, or call the BCNZ Nurse Support Coordinator on 0800 BCNZ NURSE (226 968)