Managing Your Cancer Care During an Emergency

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2019

An emergency such as a flood, fire, earthquake, or hurricane is challenging for everyone. Having cancer puts you at an even greater risk because it might be difficult to get treatment or care for yourself and your loved ones. You might also have a greater risk of infection if you are hurt, or have less energy to get to safety.

This article tells you how to prepare for an emergency or natural disaster when you or a loved one has cancer.

Plan ahead

Talk with your health care team about any natural disasters that could happen in your area. For example, does your area have hurricanes or wildfires? If so, plan for what to do in those situations. Consider finding out the following information:

  • Do I need extra medicines?

  • What should I do if I miss treatment?

  • Where do I go for emergency care? Try calling your insurance company to find out.

The checklist at the bottom of this page can help you make a plan.

Also plan with family, friends, and neighbors. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides information on making a family emergency plan, in English and Spanish. Talk to neighbors about any older family members and exchange phone numbers with them. A neighbor might be able to check on them if you cannot.

Create an emergency kit

Having emergency supplies is especially important for people with cancer. You need nutritious food, enough water, and a way to contact emergency services if needed.

Cancer and its treatment can make you more likely to get infections, such as from dirty water or other emergency conditions. So, a first-aid kit with hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and antibiotic cream is important.

Pack your emergency supplies in a waterproof container, such as a sealed plastic bag or pouch. Do not use any supplies that have touched floodwater.

Be ready to make a call or leave home

If you lose electricity, you might not be able to charge your phone for some time. Keep it charged and ready. Also, keep fuel or an electric charge in your car so you can easily get to safety if needed. You should also keep a flashlight, emergency radio, and contact information for neighbors and family members on hand.

Take shelter safely

You can stay home in some emergencies, but you might not have water, electricity, heat, or air conditioning. Think about shoes and clothing you might need, including waterproof boots or shoes and blankets or coats.

You need food and clean water for at least 3 days. Enough for 1 to 2 weeks is even better. Have a way to boil or purify water, such as water purification tablets or a pot, camping stove, and fuel. Put a can opener in your kit to open cans of food. Also store food, water, and medicines for any pets, so you do not need to share your supply with them.

You can buy food and supply kits from the American Red Cross and other organizations or make your own. Be sure to use waterproof containers. You can pack some of your food and water in a “go bag” to take if you leave your home. This bag should also include medical supplies and your medical information.

Carry your medical information

Keep the following information in a safe place in your pocket, purse, or briefcase at all times.

  • Your doctor’s name and phone number

  • Information on your type and stage of cancer

  • The type of cancer treatment you are having

Get reliable information

News can spread fast during an emergency. Check your local news on TV, the radio, or online to find accurate weather reports and emergency information. You can also check the social media pages for your local police, fire or sheriff’s department. Remember that you might need extra time or help to get to a safe place.

Find emergency cancer care

Call your doctor’s office as soon as possible to learn what to do. ASCO has a Resources for Disaster Assistance page with resources for help in an emergency. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) also has a website with emergency resources for people with cancer in English and Spanish.

If you have Medicare, their website tells you where to get medication or dialysis in areas affected by natural disasters. Information is in English and Spanish.

Emergency checklist

You can use the checklist below to get ready for an emergency.

  • I have talked with my cancer care team about what situation would be an emergency for me.

  • I have medicines and other medical supplies on hand if my doctor thinks I might need them, including enough medications for at least 1 week.

  • I have a first aid kid, including antiseptic spray, rubbing alcohol, or hydrogen peroxide and antibiotic cream to help prevent infections.

  • I have enough nutritious food and water in my home for at least 3 days, plus food and water for my pets. Food and water are stored in waterproof containers.

  • I have talked with family members, friends, or neighbors about the help I might need in a natural disaster, such as a flood, fire, earthquake, hurricane, tornado, or snowstorm.

  • I have a cell phone, emergency radio, or other way to contact 911 if needed.

  • I carry written information on my type of cancer, the stage, and my treatment. I also have my basic medical records and information on a flash drive or stored in the cloud. I know the passwords to get them.

Related Resources

When to Call the Doctor During Cancer Treatment

Top Food Safety Tips for Severe Weather

After a Hurricane: 6 Things People with Cancer Should Know

More Information

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): Family Emergency Plan

FEMA: Ready.gov

Healthcare Ready

National Cancer Institute: Help for Cancer Patients and Researchers Affected by Catastrophic Events