Ovarian cancer and COVID-19 (coronavirus): advice for patients in England

BRCA gene mutations

Page updated 5th Jan 2021

National lockdown January 2021: Information for ovarian cancer patients in England who are currently receiving treatment

From 5th January 2021, national lockdown rules apply in England. You can read about the restrictions here.

Earlier in the year, many ovarian cancer patients were advised to stay at home and ‘shield’ to avoid catching Covid-19. Throughout the pandemic, the government given additional guidance to cancer patients and other 'clinically extremely vulnerable people' whose medical condition or treatment meant they had a higher risk of becoming seriously ill if they caught coronavirus. 

For those classed as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable, the government is now advising you to begin (or resume) shielding. If you are in this category you will receive a new letter from the government explaining the extra precautions to take and the help available to support you at this time. In the meantime if you have questions about who this applies to, and what it means, you can see our FAQs below for helpful information. The latest government advice for anyone shielding can be found here.   

The UK has approved two Covid-19 vaccines 

The government has now approved two coronavirus vaccines, Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca, for mass use across the UK. The NHS has now started the phased roll out of the coronavirus vaccine, and over 1 million people have already been vaccinated. The vaccine is free and will be available to everyone who will benefit, starting with those most at risk. Clinically Extremely Vulnerable people - including ovarian cancer patients - are in the fourth priority group to get the vaccine. The Government has said that it aims for everyone who is Clinically extremely vulnerable to have been vaccinated by mid February. Click here to read our Covid-19 vaccine FAQs. 

FAQs for patients in England 

Am I 'clinically extremely vulnerable'?

Medical experts have identified the people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to stay safe as their specific medical condition or their treatment places them at risk of serious illness if they caught coronavirus. 

You will receive a new letter from the Government if you are considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable. You may also receive an email if the NHS has your contact details. These letters may take a few days to arrive but you should receive a letter by mid January.

You are likely to be considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable if you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and you are currently having: 

  • chemotherapy, or have had chemotherapy in the last 3 months.
  • treatment where they are taking a PARP inhibitor (Olaparib, Niraparib, and Rucaparib).
  • immunotherapy or any treatment that affects their immune system.

If you have had ovarian cancer in the past and made a full recovery, you are unlikely to be considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable'. You should still follow the Government guidance on social distancing to stay safe, but you are not at any more risk than the general public.

If you do not receive a letter from the Government then you are not considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable.

What does the guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people say?

The government is advising people classed as clinically extremely vulnerable to “shield”. This means the safest thing for you to do is:

  • Stay at home
  • Only go out for medical appointments and exercise, or if it is essential to do so
  • Avoid all face-to-face contact (apart from with healthcare workers who are essential as part of your medical care)
  • You should work from home, and if you cannot you should not go to work (You can use your letter advising you to shield as evidence for your workplace if required)
  • Do not go to shops, supermarkets or pharmacies.

You can find the full guidance on the government website.

Is there still a shielded patients list?

The shielded patient list is still in use. If you have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable, you will have received a letter from your GP, hospital or (if identified nationally) from the NHS. More information about the shielded patient list can be found here.

I've been diagnosed with ovarian cancer since March - will I still be included on the shielded patients list?

Yes. The national list of people who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable is updated weekly.  So even if you were not included in the shielding list in the first lockdown, you will be included in this lockdown.

Where can I get a copy of the latest letter for clinically vulnerable people?

If you are on the Shielding Patients List you should have received a copy of the letter from the government in the post. 

You can find an electronic copy of the letter on GOV.UK

Easy read and large print versions are available to read here

If you would like to order a copy of the latest letter and guidance in audio, braille, or large print, please contact Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) at helpline@RNIB.org.uk or call 0303 123 9999. 

The letter to clinically extremely vulnerable people (dated 7 January) is available in the following languages:

Is the latest letter for clinically extremely vulnerable people available in other languages?

Yes. The latest letter is available from GOV.UK in Arabic, Bengali, Bulgarian, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Gujarati, Hindi, Nepali, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi and Urdu. 

I haven't received a government letter, but I think I am clinically extremely vulnerable - what can I do?

If you think you should be considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable' but haven't received a new letter from the Government, you should speak to your GP or your cancer team. They are able to add you to this list if they agree you should be considered 'clinically extremely vulnerable'.

Is there anything else I can do to keep myself safe?

On top of patient the guidance, here are some other things you can do to stay healthy over lockdown:

  • Get a flu vaccine
  • Take vitamin D supplements every day

Free daily vitamin D supplements are being offered to anyone at high risk of coronavirus, which you can request through the NHS website. You can also buy Vitamin D supplements at most supermarkets and all pharmacies and health stores, eg Boots and Holland and Barrett. 

During the autumn and winter months everyone is advised to take a supplement of vitamin D every day to support general health and in particular for bone and muscle health. Many of us have been indoors more than usual this year and so might not have been making enough vitamin D from sunlight. You can find general advice on vitamin D here.  While the evidence is still evolving about Vitamin D and its effect on Covid-19, it is being recommended by more and more health professionals, and there are no downsides to taking a supplement every day.

Where can I get support?

Support getting food delivered

You can register to request access to priority supermarket deliveries here: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-shielding-support.

NHS services

You should continue to seek support from the NHS for your existing health conditions. You can access a range of NHS services from home, including ordering repeat prescriptions or contacting your health professional through an online consultation. To find out more visit the NHS website or download the NHS App. If you have an urgent medical need, call NHS 111 or, for a medical emergency, dial 999.

NHS Volunteer Responders

The NHS Volunteer Responders Programme will continue providing support with shopping and medicines delivery. You can contact them by calling 0808 196 3646 (8am-8pm, seven days a week) or visit NHS Volunteer Responders

Support to work

If you need support to work at home or in the workplace you can apply for Access to Work which provides support for people with a disability or health condition.  

If you have concerns about your health and safety at work you can raise them with your workplace union, the Health and Safety Executive or your local authority.

If you have concerns you can get advice on your specific situation and your employment rights by visiting the Acas website or calling the Acas helpline on 0300 123 1100.

Your employer may be able to furlough you under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended until the end of April 2021. You should have a conversation with your employer about whether this is possible.

Support for women with ovarian cancer 

We have also launched the Staying Connected programme in partnership with Ovacome to support ovarian cancer patients during this time. This includes support, patient information, updates to government guidance and fun things to keep you entertained during this time.

Ovacome's support line is now open extended hours, and you can call them for free on 0800 008 7054

You can sign up to receive our weekly Staying Connected emails for tips on navigating the lockdown, as well as updates on the Government guidance at the bottom of the page. If there’s anything in particular you’d like to see from us, tell us on info@ovarian.org.uk

If you are still concerned and need any additional help , you should contact your local council who may be able to help. You can register yourself for the new online service here.

Where can I find mental health support?

We understand that it is normal to feel anxious or go through feelings of depression at this time. There are a number of organisations and services who are there to help support your mental health and wellbeing. If you’re feeling anxious or low, visit Every Mind Matters or GOV.UK for advice and support. 

Ovacome's support line is now open extended hours, and you can call them for free on 0800 008 7054

If you feel like you are still struggling to cope, you can also speak to your GP. 

What about my treatment? Will it be safe to go into hospital?

The NHS is working hard to diagnose,  treat and care for people with cancer, and ensure that these services return to operating as they did before the pandemic. 

Changes are being made to the way services are delivered to keep patients and staff safe. For example:

  • COVID-protected hubs have been established across the country to ensure that cancer treatment continues.  The hubs support hospitals across the NHS and independent sector to work together to maximise capacity and ensure that people receive the treatment that they need.  Some patients may start to see their treatment move to a different hospital as these hubs are set up.  You will remain under the care of your treating hospital and clinical specialist team and should contact them with any questions about your treatment and care.
  • Most hospitals are now using more telephone or internet consultations to avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital. You may be called to arrange your treatments in this way, and planned treatments may need to be moved to help with running a smooth service. You can read a helpful guide put together by Ovacome about how to prepare for these appointments here.
  • Some patients may have their chemotherapy at home or have fewer radiotherapy appointments, to reduce visits to hospital while continuing with their treatment.  
  • For some people, it may be safer to delay surgery. Your doctor may suggest a different treatment in the meantime, such as chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. 
Wider measures are also being taken by all hospitals that are treating COVID patients to ensure that COVID and non-COVID patients are kept separate. For example, there may be separate entrances for COVID and non-COVID patients, all patients admitted to hospital as an emergency will be tested for COVID, and patients going into hospital for surgery or another elective procedure will be asked to isolate for 14 days and be offered a COVID test wherever possible.

If you have an urgent medical question relating to your ovarian cancer please contact your specialist hospital care team, directly. Where possible, you will be supported by phone or online. If your clinician decides you need to be seen in person, the NHS will contact you to arrange a visit in your home, or where necessary, treatment in hospital.

For more guidance, information and sources of support please visit the British Gynaecological Cancer Society's patient information page on their website.

Will there be any problems accessing my cancer drugs?

The government is helping pharmacies to deliver prescriptions which will continue to cover the same length of time as usual. If you do not currently have your prescriptions collected or delivered, you can arrange this by:

1. Asking someone who can pick up your prescription from the local pharmacy, (this is the best option, if possible);

2. Contacting your pharmacy to ask them to help you find a volunteer (who will have been ID checked) or deliver it to you.

You may also need to arrange for collection or delivery of hospital specialist medication that is prescribed to you by your hospital care team.There are currently no medicine shortages as a result of COVID-19. The country is well prepared to deal with any impacts of the Coronavirus and we have stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.

The Department of Health and Social Care is working closely with industry, the NHS and others in the supply chain to ensure patients can access the medicines they need and precautions are in place to prevent future shortages.

There is no need for patients to change the way they order prescriptions or take their medicines. Patients should always follow the advice of doctors, pharmacists or other prescribers who prescribe and dispense their medicines and medical products. The NHS has tried-and-tested ways of making sure patients receive their medicines and medical products, even under difficult circumstances. If patients order extra prescriptions, or stockpile, it will put pressure on stocks, meaning that some patients may not get the medicines or medical products they need.

What is happening with clinical trials?

80% of clinical trials have now reopened, and we hope they will stay open during this new lockdown. You should contact your clinical team with questions about your individual treatment including any trials you are part of. We will update this section as soon as we know more.

What do I do if I have COVID-19 symptoms?

If you are experiencing symptoms of any infection or illness, including Coronavirus, you should:

  • arrange to have a test 
  • contact your cancer team know as you would normally.  You can do this as well as using the NHS 111 online Coronavirus service. If you do not have access to the internet, call NHS 111. Make sure you mention that you are an ovarian cancer patient who has been considered to be at risk. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.

If you fall ill from COVID-19, or any other condition, and require treatment in hospital, you will still be treated as normal and will absolutely not be denied any medical intervention because you are clinically extremely vulnerable.

What should I do if I'm experiencing ovarian cancer symptoms?

The following advice is from the British Gynaecological Cancer Society.

Some existing cancer patients have open access to their gynae-oncology service, normally via the Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS). If you have already had a gynaecological cancer diagnosis and have symptoms concerning for recurrence (such as persistent bloating and stomach pain), please get in touch with your CNS via their usual contact details. Please be aware that many staff have been re-deployed to look after acutely unwell patients, so there may be a delay, or a CNS from another cancer team may be covering the gynaecological cancer team.  Please be understanding with us if this is the case. We will try our very hardest to look after you and get back to you as quickly as we can.

Sometimes you may be referred to another hospital in your area, if your normal hospital is very busy. We have been working together to help get you seen and treated as soon as we can. We are all one big NHS team, now more so than ever. Please bear with us and be understanding, if this is the case.

Could the guidance change again?

Yes - the guidance is regularly updated based on the latest data available and can be changed by the government.

We'll be regularly updating this page, so you'll always find the latest guidance here.

Where can I find out more about the Covid-19 vaccine?

Do you have another question?

If you have a question that hasn’t been answered, please email us at info@ovarian.org.uk - we may not know the answer straight away, but we will do our best to find out.

Government guidance is regularly being updated. Sign up here to be kept up to date with the latest government advice, information and advice from experts, and tips on your wellbeing during this uncertain time.