Cancer Care in the Time of Corona: What to Do and What to Expect Keep Calm and Carry on: Cancer Care Amid COVID-19

According to statistics, as long as we keep our immune system healthy and have no other illnesses, the chances of contracting COVID-19 or having severe symptoms are quite low. But in the case of people living with cancer, both the disease itself and the treatments might have already weakened the immune system. Cancer patients must therefore take care of themselves more thoroughly than ever, because contracting COVID-19 might result in far more serious consequences for them. Most importantly, please do not let you COVID-19 fears stop you from going to the hospital to continue your treatment or in case of an emergency. As long as you keep calm, you can carry on your fight against cancer, even in the time of corona.
 
General information about COVID-19
  • There are currently over 1,000,000 COVID-19 patients all over the world. As you read this article, that number will be steadily rising.
  • There are more than 145 countries in the world with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
  • The entire world is currently facing the same crisis.
 
According to statistics from China, where the COVID-19 outbreak was first recorded, the majority of COVID-19 patients have only mild symptoms and are eminently treatable. Those who exhibit severe symptoms tend to have pre-existing risk factors, such as being of old age, having chronic medical conditions or having a weakened immune system.
 
Now, what about cancer? Is it a risk factor? If so, what should we do to keep us safe from COVID-19 without letting up in the fight against cancer? We have answers to these questions.
 

So, does cancer increase my risk of contracting COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a viral infection like influenza, but could lead to much more severe symptoms. Usually, when our bodies are attacked by a virus, the immune system is set to the task of getting rid of the microscopic malefactors. The same goes for COVID-19. As long as we keep our immune system healthy and have no other illnesses, the chances of contracting COVID-19 or having severe symptoms are quite low. We can even fight off the virus and recover with only minor medical assistance, as long as we get enough rest, receive balanced nutrition, self-isolate, and follow our physician’s recommendations. 
But in the case of people living with cancer, both the disease itself and the treatments—be it radiation therapy, chemotherapy, marrow transplants, or certain oral medications—will have already weakened the immune system. Cancer patients must therefore take care of themselves more thoroughly than ever, because contracting COVID-19 might result in far more serious consequences for them.

 

Then what should a cancer patient do?

The general recommendations are very much like those given to others: wash your hands frequently with soap and water or 70% alcohol for at least 20 seconds, practice social distancing by refraining from going to any public spaces (but always wear a mask if you must), and keep a distance of at least 2 meters away from others. However, cancer patients need to be much more disciplined than the general population, especially those with lung or blood-related cancers. Those in the middle of chemotherapy or radiotherapy courses (or those who have just completed the course), as well as those who received immunotherapy or other targeted therapies must take special care, as these treatments will affect the immune system. They might need to stay 2 meters apart from everyone. This includes family members who are still going out to work or visiting relatives. Patients and family members alike should wear a mask when interacting with each other, even in their own household.
 It must be stressed that those who live in the same household must observe all of the same protocols with just as much discipline. Otherwise, they risk being carriers of COVID-19 to the patient. Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

 

What if I have an appointment with doctor? Can I still go?

The first step is to speak with your own physician at the hospital who will decide whether a physical appointment is appropriate, given the circumstances. Here the patient’s condition will be the main consideration, for example those who are in the middle of ongoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy need to continue their treatment. Failure to complete these courses as scheduled can be detrimental. But for patients who are in the monitoring phases, the doctor may postpone physical appointments in favor of remote communication.
If you require more medication and the physician sees fit to refill the prescription without a physical examination, it is recommended that a young and healthy family member comes to collect your medication for you. Otherwise, your physician might ask you to come in for a physical examination, and then make a prescription for more medication than usual to delay the next visit. Wherever possible, medication will be sent by post to avoid putting you or your family members at risk during travel.

 

What if there is a medical emergency?

Should the patient or their family members notice any serious deterioration or medical emergencies, the patient still need to be taken to hospital as quickly as soon as possible. Please do not be so scared of COVID-19 that you do not dare to make your way to a hospital. All hospitals have measures in place to safeguard staff and patients from infection in situations such as this. However, you should always call in advance and heed the precautions or instructions given by hospital staff prior to arrival. The procedures may change according to the situation.
 
While it is undeniable that COVID-19 is currently a global threat, we are still able to take precautions and measures to protect ourselves. Remain disciplined, calm, and continue to maintain social distancing. Refrain from touching objects that are repeatedly touched by others unless absolutely necessary. Wash your hands frequently. Do all of these things as part of your overall mental and physical health regime, so that when an effective vaccine is available, you and your loved ones will have gotten through this crisis together.
           

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