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Children and young people with cancer and COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a big effect on our lives. Families of children or young people who are having treatment for cancer may be very understandably feeling more anxious than normal at this time.

It’s reassuring that what we have learned so far generally doesn’t suggest that children with cancer are at greatly increased risk of severe infection from COVID-19.

This does not mean that children don’t get COVID-19. But the risk of severe illness in children is generally lower than among adults. Based on what we know, the highest risk for complications with COVID-19 is seen in older adults and patients with chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, lung problems, or people with weak immune systems.   

However, we must continue to regard children with cancer as a vulnerable population. To minimise exposure to COVID-19, we recommend that families with children who have weakened immune systems due to cancer treatment or another illness or medical condition, follow the strictest isolation precautions that you and your family are able to achieve. If symptoms develop, contact your doctor right away.

If your child is receiving cancer treatment and you have any concerns, call your child’s oncologist or a member of the treatment team, and follow their guidance on actions to take. Keep taking cancer medicines as usual - your cancer care team will tell you if there are any changes.

Redkite is a national organisation that provides emotional support, financial assistance, information and resources to families who have a child with cancer. You can reach them through their support line 1800 733 548 (1800 REDKITE), which is open (9am-7pm AEST), email support@redkite.org.au or live chat on www.redkite.org.au

Young people with cancer

Young people affected by cancer may also be feeling additional anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people currently undergoing treatment for cancer or who have weakened immune systems should take extra care to prevent exposure to COVID-19.

Canteen provides a service called Canteen Connect, an online community for young people aged 12-25 dealing with their own or a close family member’s cancer.

Young people can get support from their peers and Canteen’s specialist counsellors on a broad range of topics, from COVID-19 to school and exam stress, and family relationships.

Canteen helps young people by connecting them 24/7 with others their age who truly understand what they’re dealing with through discussions, direct messaging and blogs. Online counselling is available seven days a week, including evenings.

Visit https://canteenconnect.org/ or call 1800 835 932.

If you are receiving cancer treatment and you have any concerns, call your oncologist or a member of your treatment team, and follow their guidance on actions to take. Keep taking cancer medicines as usual - your cancer care team will tell you if there are any changes.

What to do if your child or teenager is immunocompromised

If your child or teenager has a weak immune system or chronic health condition, it is important to plan ahead and take steps to prevent illness. Good hygiene and taking care when interacting with other people are the best defense for you and your family against COVID-19. 

  • Talk to your doctor about the risk of COVID-19 and individual health needs.
  • Know what to do if symptoms develop. Call ahead before going to the doctor except in an emergency.
  • Make sure you have extra medicines and medical supplies on hand in case you must stay home due to an outbreak or quarantine. Talk to your doctor about options to get medicines such as shipping to your home.
  • Ask your doctor about any upcoming medical visits and if they should be postponed. Your doctor may recommend waiting on some types of appointments if they can be delayed.
  • Avoid non-essential travel and stay at home.
  • Stay 1.5 metres away from other people. This is called social distancing.
  • Pay attention to symptoms and monitor for signs of infection.
  • Know warning signs that require emergency care.

Good hygiene for families includes:

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow or a tissue.
  • Put used tissues straight into the bin.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, including before and after eating and after going to the toilet.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitisers.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces such as benchtops, desks and doorknobs and other frequently used objects.

Information and support

The Australian and New Zealand Children’s Haematology/Oncology Group (ANZCHOG) provides regular updates and FAQs  on COVID-19 and children and young people with cancer. 

If you’re a child or young person who’s feeling stressed or anxious about novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Kids Helpline is open to talk to you 24/7 on 1800 55 1800. Or you can start a WebChat or visit their website.

Parents and carers can also call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.    

Helpful links