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

BRCA gene mutations

Updated 28th May 2020

Information for patients in England who are currently receiving treatment for ovarian cancer

Due to the current outbreak of COVID-19, ovarian cancer patients need to follow special advice to stay healthy. The NHS has now contacted patients that are considered to be most at risk of severe illness if they catch Coronavirus (COVID-19). Many ovarian cancer patients will be considered to be most at risk.

We'll be regularly updating this page as the information changes. 

Who is most at risk?

  • Ovarian cancer patients who are currently having chemotherapy, or have had chemotherapy in the last 3 months.
  • Ovarian cancer patients who are currently having treatment where they are taking a PARP inhibitor (Olaparib, Niraparib, and Rucaparib).
  • Ovarian cancer patients who are having immunotherapy or any treatment that affects their immune system.
What do I need to do?

You should stay at home at all times and avoid all face-to-face contact until at least the end of June, except carers and healthcare workers who you must see as part of your medical care. This will protect you by stopping you from coming into contact with the virus. 

This means you should:

  • Strictly avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Not leave your home except for treatment
  • Not attend any gatherings. This includes gatherings of friends and families in private spaces e.g. family homes, weddings and religious services
  • Not go out for shopping, leisure or travel. When arranging food or medication deliveries, these should be left at the door to minimise contact 
  • Keep in touch with family and friends using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media
  • Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services 
  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Ask carers or support workers who visit your home to do the same.

Discuss your day to day needs during this period of staying at home with carers, family, friends, neighbours or local community groups to see how they can support you. If you do not have anyone who can help you, please visit click here.

Where can I get support?
Everyone who has received a letter advising that they are clinically extremely vulnerable is able to access extra support if you need it. This may include having essential groceries delivered to your home or setting up regular calls with an NHS volunteer if you are experiencing feelings of isolation. All the information you need to sign up for extra support can be found here


We understand this will be an incredibly frustrating and difficult time for many of you, especially those who feel well. Your emotions will probably range from anxious to downright bored. Your mental health will be just as important as your physical health in these next few weeks. 

We have 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 shielding period, 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

What about my treatment?

Cancer treatments, especially operations and chemotherapy, are riskier now than before. Cancer and its treatment can weaken the immune system, making a person more vulnerable to the virus.  In some cases, it may be safer to delay cancer treatment or give it in a different way, to reduce the risk from coronavirus. Essential and urgent cancer diagnosis, treatment and care are continuing and NHS staff are working hard to make sure cancer treatments can continue in the safest and best possible way. To do this there may need to be some changes to how your treatments are delivered:

- Most hospitals are now using more telephone or internet consultations to avoid unnecessary trips to the hospital. You can read a helpful guide put together by Ovacome about how to prepare for these appointments here.

- The Government has now announced the rollout of COVID-free hubs in every region where cancer treatment can continue without the risk of catching COVID-19. During this time you may have treatment in a hospital that isn't where you normally go. Your clinical team will be able to tell you more about this. This means treatment should be able to continue. If your treatment has been cancelled and you feel uncomfortable about it please get in touch and we'll try to help.

- It is possible that some non urgent clinics and appointments will be cancelled or postponed, you will be contacted if any changes need to be made to your care or treatment. Otherwise, you should assume your care or treatment is taking place as planned. Please contact your hospital or clinic directly if you have any questions about a specific appointment. 

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

If you are experiencing symptoms of any infection or illness, including coronavirus, you should 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 in the shielding group.

I haven't received a letter but think I should have

The criteria for cancer patients were carefully defined, based on those with greatest clinical risk.  

Some people received letters later than others, but all letters should have now arrived. If you haven't received a letter and you think you should have you should contact your GP urgently. A second wave of letters have now been sent out.

If you are unsure of your risk and what measures you should be taking, you should speak with your hospital specialist.  If this is not possible, you should contact your GP.

I received a letter but don't think I should be shielding

We understand that the restrictions imposed by shielding are difficult, both for you and for your family members. The Government has issued shielding guidance based on careful criteria, strongly advising you to stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact until at least the end of June. This is the safest thing to do to protect you from illness/ complications of COVID-19. It is unlikely that you have received a letter in error, but if you think you have do speak to your GP.

However, this is guidance and whether you follow the guidance or not is a personal decision for you to make. You may decide, having weighed up the risks and the implications of shielding, that you do not want to follow the guidance. Before deciding, we would ask you to discuss the matter with your GP or hospital specialist and those that may provide care for you. This may be particularly relevant for patients who are receiving end of life care. Please do talk to somebody before you decide what to do.

If you are unsure of your risk and what measures you should be taking, you should speak with your hospital specialist.  If this is not possible, you should contact your GP.

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.

What is happening with clinical trials?

The NIHR has issued guidance on clinical trials, recognising the need to prioritise research on COVID-19 itself, and that many clinical research teams will be asked to redeploy to help with providing patient care. 

People already having cancer treatment as part of clinical trials may be able to continue their treatment if it is safe to do so, but hospitals are trying to reduce the number of times patients attend for tests, so the arrangements for people on trials may be changed for safety reasons. 

Some trials have stopped recruiting new patients.  Where trials can continue they are being done so with reduced patient contact, for example by delivering medication directly to patients and following up by telephone or video rather than face to face appointments. 

You should contact your clinical team with questions about your individual treatment including any trials you are part of.

What should I do about work?

Your letter is evidence, for your employer, to show that you cannot work outside the home. You do not need to get a fit note from your GP. You can continue to work from home if you feel able to. People already having cancer treatment as part of clinical trials may be able to continue their treatment if it is safe to do so, but hospitals are trying to reduce the number of times patients attend for tests, so the arrangements for people on trials may be changed for safety reasons.

Some trials have stopped recruiting new patients.  Where trials can continue they are being done so with reduced patient contact, for example by delivering medication directly to patients and following up by telephone or video rather than face to face appointments.

You should contact your clinical team with questions about your individual treatment including any trials you are part of.

What will happen to shielding patients once lockdown lifts?

There’s been a lot of confusion about what will happen with shielding over the past couple of weeks, and things are all very unclear about how any changes to lockdown will affect patients who are shielding. We now know that shielding in some form will almost certainly extend beyond the original 12 week period.  We’ve been pushing the Government for new, clear guidance on shielding going forward, and are expecting it in a couple of weeks. There are still a number of unanswered questions about how schools re-opening and family members going back to work will be managed in shielding households, but as always, as soon as any guidance or advice changes we’ll let you know.

There is currently no vaccine available for COVID-19, however we are excited to read about the progress being made to try and develop one - especially at Oxford University and Imperial College, London. It is likely that it will still take many months for this to be available for patients if it is successful. We have been asked if cancer patients will be a priority if and when a vaccine is developed. We don't currently know the answer to this, but will push the Government for patients to have access as soon as possible. 

Update 28th May: The government announced it will be making changes to shielding advice for clinically vulnerable groups for when lockdown restrictions lift. Those people in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group, who were advised to shield in March, have been told to continue to do so. However, there are still lots of unanswered questions. We'll continue to push the government for clearer guidance and support around shielding and keep you updated as new information emerges.

Changes are being made to the list of people who are seen as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19. GPs or specialists will now be reviewing their patients and talking to them about whether or not they need to be on this list. A number of patients in England have already being told by clinicians that they no longer fall into the most vulnerable category.

We’re also aware that some patients who had been advised to shield, and were receiving government support, were recently sent a text message telling them their vulnerable status had changed. This happened before they had spoken with their doctor, and understandably may have caused some worry. Please speak to your doctor if you received this message and have any questions or concerns about what it means for you.  The Government has said that anyone who was on the list previously can still access some forms of support. 

What about people who have had treatment in the past but are not part of the shielding group?

If you have had ovarian cancer in the past and made a full recovery, you will not be part of the shielding group. 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 have a question that hasn’t been answered, have a look at our wider Coronavirus FAQs and if we still haven’t covered it 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.