Cancer doesn’t stop its relentless attack, not even for COVID-19. The unknowns surrounding the novel coronavirus are leaving people worried, especially cancer patients.
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer patients and survivors who have weakened immune systems because of the disease and their treatments have a greater chance of catching COVID-19 and of developing severe pneumonia or multi-organ system failure.
COVID-19 causes respiratory illness and spreads from person to person through droplets released into the air by infected individuals. Other people contract the disease by breathing in the droplets or touching surfaces they land on and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth. To date, there are no proven treatments or vaccines.
Cancer patients should call their doctor if they show any COVID-19 symptoms. These include fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, diarrhea, dehydration, worsening cancer or cancer treatment symptoms, or if someone in their home tests positive for the disease. They should seek to get tested if they develop a fever or cough and should avoid the E.R. unless they experience shortness of breath.
Oncologists may reduce the dosage of medication or radiation, delay surgery, use telehealth visits or home health care, or switch from chemotherapy to oral drugs. Your physician will make these adjustments based on a careful balance between your risks for cancer progression or relapse and your risks from acquiring COVID-19.
COVID-19 brings a scary new reality to cancer patients and doctors, but taking the proper precautions and staying home will help keep patients, physicians and their loved ones safer.