We have put together some answers to frequently asked questions from our community. Take a look below. Remember, if in doubt, speak to your medical team – they are in the best position to help you.
On Sunday 14 February, it was announced that Auckland would go into Level 3, with the rest of the country at Level 2, for three days. This provides an opportunity for the government to understand the extent of COVID-19 spread in the community, and whether there’s a requirement to stay in these alert levels for a longer period of time. Currently there will be little change in how your treatment is offered. By Wednesday evening cancer providers will have a clearer idea of what to expect and will advise us about likely changes to how treatment is delivered in different regions . Until then, for more information on what Level 2 and 3 means for your care, visit the Ministry of Health Website.
We will be talking in more detail over the next few days, as more information becomes available, about possible changes in the way your cancer care is delivered. This page will be updated as the situation evolves.
Breast Cancer Foundation NZ is still here to support you during this time. You can see the support services we have available here, or call our nurses on 0800 226 8773 if you have any questions or concerns.
Your immunity and COVID-19
- Am I at higher risk from COVID-19 because I've had breast cancer?
- Will my immunity be affected by treatment?
- How long will my immune system be suppressed after I finish chemotherapy?
- I’ve had lymph nodes removed as part of my surgery for breast cancer treatment. Will this affect my immunity?
Everyone carries the same risk of getting Covid-19, but it will impact everyone differently. People who currently have breast cancer, including those who’ve recently been diagnosed or who have advanced breast cancer, may have lowered immunity because of the cancer itself. Some breast cancer treatments can also lower your immunity.
It also seems that people who have had cancer in the past may be at higher risk of complications from the virus. Most people who develop cancer – in New Zealand and around the world – are older, and are likely to have other medical conditions too. These factors may raise your risk of getting sick.
Certain cancer treatments can affect your immune system, making you more vulnerable to infection. Those having chemotherapy or targeted treatment (like Herceptin) at the moment, or who have who have recently completed treatment, are likely to be immune-compromised in some way.
While on chemotherapy there is, of course, the very real risk of developing severe bacterial infections and your team of doctors and nurses will have spent time explaining this risk to you – describing the signs and symptoms of infection and how to report concerns immediately to hospital staff. This situation doesn’t change with COVID-19 and you should continue to have regular blood tests to check your white blood cell count if you have been asked to. It’s important to keep taking any medicine you’re been prescribed, as this will help support your body’s ability to fight infection. Please continue to keep your appointments with your treatment team, and contact them directly if you have symptoms and follow their advice.
Radiotherapy is less likely to affect your immune response, but you may find that your medical consultant will look at new ways of scheduling treatments to limit your exposure to others.
Taking hormone therapies, like tamoxifen, won’t increase your risk of getting sick, as there is no evidence that hormone therapies affect the immune system.
If you’ve finished treatment recently, your immunity should recover within the next few months. If you finished cancer treatment months or years ago, your immunity should have recovered by now.
There is no definitive way to test how good your overall immunity is, but how fast you recover from colds, etc might give you a clue about this. This will be different for everyone, as everyone’s immune system and treatment is different. If you’re still unsure, the best person to ask is your breast nurse or oncologist.
While lymph nodes are part of the immune system, having lymph nodes removed doesn’t affect your body’s ability to fight infections like COVID-19.
- What should I do if I become unwell or think I have been exposed to COVID-19?
- Can I visit my GP if I find a lump or an unusual change in my breasts?
- Should I wear a face mask to protect myself?
If you are currently on treatment your medical team will give you information about infection, what to do if you feel unwell, and the steps to take if you do get sick. If you get a fever while on chemotherapy, you should follow these instructions carefully.
If you have completed treatment, your GP will be your first port of call. It’s best to ring them first, and they can then assess you over the phone. If needed, they may be able to still see you in person.
It's important to get any changes in your breasts checked out, even if you've had a mammogram recently. Give your doctor a call - you may be able to have an appointment with them over the phone or via video. Doctors are still referring patients to breast clinics, so even if you are unable to see your doctor, you should still be able to have any changes checked out.
For those in Auckland, wearing a mask or face covering when you're out in public is strongly encouraged in Level 3. For those around the country in Level 2, it's recommended that you wear a mask or face covering when you can't social distance. Pharmacies and online stores are selling reusable or simple paper masks, but you can also use face coverings like a scarf or bandanna. There are also many free patterns to make your own mask at home, like this one. If you don’t already have masks, you could call your breast nurse at the hospital for their advice. Masks for family and close contacts are also important.