Cancer Survivors’ Risk for COVID-19 Symptoms Are Elevated

The effects of cancer are far-reaching. Even after active treatment, cancer survivors face challenging mental and physical health issues.

covid cell

Cancer treatments can wear a person’s body down. The long-lasting effects of chemotherapy and other therapies are called late effects of cancer treatment. The effects can occur years after a person has completed their treatments. For example, some may experience spinal cord damage, including paralysis, due to radiation from lung cancer.

Cancer and Spinal Cord Injuries

People with spinal cord injuries (SCI) are at a higher risk of bladder cancer. Bladder management after an SCI is integral. The objective is to maintain an infection-free genitourinary system. Maintaining a healthy upper and lower genitourinary system prevents possible infections.

To achieve a healthy genitourinary system, therapy is provided to help build a management system that successfully manages acceptable bladder drainage with minimal urine storage. Sometimes, a catheter may be used to help. Continual use of catheters increases the risk of health issues, including cancer.

Another issue that paralysis can create is urinary tract infections. Frequent urinary tract infections decrease the bladder’s overall health and may increase the risk of bladder cancer, too.

Cancer Treatment

Several types of treatments are used to eradicate cancer cells from the body. The standard treatment for bladder cancer can vary based on the stage and type of bladder cancer a person is diagnosed with. Many people undergo chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or different therapies.

All cancer treatments have side effects. While many will feel immediate side effects after they receive a treatment, some may experience late effects of cancer treatment.

Cancer patients and survivors are also at an increased risk of moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Cancer and COVID-19 Vaccinations

Soon after COVID-19 vaccinations became available, many cancer treatment centers ensured patients could receive the vaccines. Cancer treatment centers did so because cancer patients are at a higher risk of infection because their immune system is compromised due to treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that cancer survivors get COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots. Many cancer treatment centers offer on-site vaccinations to help cancer patients and survivors.

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Cancer and the Risk of COVID-19 Symptoms

Cancer survivors have an increased risk of medium to severe COVID-19 symptoms and long COVID. An article in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute discussed the difference in COVID-19 symptoms among those vaccinated and unvaccinated. The researchers also compared those with cancer to those who never had cancer as it relates to vaccination.

Cancer survivors and patients were more likely to have at least two vaccination shots and had similar COVID-19 infection histories as those who never had cancer. However, when infected with COVID-19, cancer patients and survivors were at an increased risk of having moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms. The study also found that cancer patients and survivors who were young and female had a higher risk than others of developing moderate to severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Preventing COVID-19

Regardless of whether a person has or has had cancer, the CDC continues to recommend that they receive a COVID-19 vaccine or booster. Furthermore, the CDC endorses continuing to get booster shots as outlined on its COVID-19 website.

A person can take steps to decrease the chance of getting COVID-19. Some of those are:

  • Stay up to date with COVID-19 booster shots
  • Wear a mask
  • Take proper hygiene precautions
  • Avoid crowds

If you have any questions about your risk of getting COVID-19, you should talk to your doctor.

Christina Sisti, DPS, MPH, MS, is a bioethicist and health care policy advocate. She works to create awareness and improve healthcare policy for those with long-term health issues.

About the Author - Reeve Staff

This blog was written by the Reeve Foundation for educational purposes. For more information please reach out to

Reeve Staff

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

This publication was supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as part of a financial assistance award totaling $160,000 with 100% funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS or the U.S. government.