Coronavirus (COVID-19): What Breast Cancer Patients, Survivors and Family Members Need to Know

Updated 4/1/2020

The World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.

“A pandemic is a global outbreak of a serious new illness that requires sustained transmission throughout the world,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. This loosely-defined term does not necessarily refer to the lethality of an illness, but more so the worldwide spread.

So what are the symptoms of COVID-19, who is most at risk, and what should everyone do to protect themselves and others?


  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms may appear up to 14 days after exposure. Call your doctor if you develop symptoms and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, if you have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19.

If you develop these emergency symptoms, get medical attention immediately…

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face


High Risk Precautions:

The peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet, published a study in mid-February which concluded both current and former cancer patients are at greater risk from COVID-19.

The study looked at 2,007 cases of hospitalized COVID-19 patients from 575 hospitals in China. Out of that group, they found 18 patients with a history of cancer they could track — some currently in treatment, some years out. Nearly half of those patients had a higher risk of “severe events” (defined as admission to the ICU, the need for ventilation or death).

“We found that patients with cancer might have a higher risk of COVID-19 than individuals without cancer,” the study authors wrote. “Additionally, we showed that patients with cancer had poorer outcomes from COVID-19, providing a timely reminder to physicians that more intensive attention should be paid to patients with cancer, in case of rapid deterioration.”

Dr. Gary Lyman, an oncologist and health policy expert at The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, states that those who have finished cancer treatment should also be mindful of their increased risk.

“The risk extends beyond the period of active treatment,” said Dr. Lyman. The after-effects of treatment don’t end when people finish their last course of therapy or leave the hospital after surgery. The after-effects of cancer and the immunosuppressive effects of treatment can be long-term.”

If you are currently in breast cancer treatment, a breast cancer survivor or thriver, live with someone who is currently in breast cancer treatment or a breast cancer survivor or thriver, or around people who are currently in breast cancer treatment or breast cancer survivors or thrivers, please follow these precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place (if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol).
  • Avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
  • Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc.
  • Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)


Things Everyone Should Do:

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth and close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw that tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.


COVID-19 Testing Costs Waived in California:

On Thursday, March 5, Governor Gavin Newsom and Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara waived the cost of co-pays, deductibles, and coinsurance for medically necessary screening and testing for COVID-19 for Californians insured though commercial and Medi-Cal plans.

The directive also prevents insurance companies from sending unlawful “balance bills” to policyholders related to the testing of COVID-19.

These changes do not apply to Californians who get their insurance through work at large companies under “self-insured” health plans.


Susan G. Komen’s Breast Cancer Screening Recommendation:

On Wednesday, March 18, Susan G. Komen suggested healthy women of average risk delay routine breast cancer screening this spring.

Komen’s recommendation was made to minimize exposure to and potential spreading of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), and to help support our health care system’s need to focus resources on managing the pandemic.  

However, people who are displaying warning signs for breast cancer should still contact their health provider to determine their need for diagnostic imaging.


American Society of Breast Surgeons’ Recommendations for Prioritization, Treatment, and Triage for Breast Cancer Patients During COVID-19:

On March 24, the American Society of Breast Surgeons released their recommendations for prioritization, treatment and triage for breast cancer patients during COVID-19.

The full list of recommendations can be found here.

Please do not change your treatment plan without first consulting with your doctor. These are recommendations, and should not supersede your doctor’s treatment plan for you.


Guidelines are changing and evolving daily. To keep up to date on specific guidance from the California Department of Health click here.

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