COVID-19's Impact on Cancer Patients
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UnityPoint Health - John Stoddard Cancer Center

COVID-19's Impact on Cancer Patients

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Before I begin I would like to take a moment to address the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic. As humans we struggle for certainty when the essence of life is it’s uncertainty. This is particularly true for the current COVID-19 pandemic. The information I will speak of is the most up to date scientific knowledge that we have but as with anything new and novel, information and recommendations can change rapidly. Please listen with an open mind and adjust your life accordingly.

The emergence of Coronavirus disease, COVID-19, has caused a global health emergency. As a world community we are rapidly learning about the virus and it’s associated toll on human life. Over the past 6 months we have learned that individuals with cancer or even those surviving cancer are more susceptible to infection than those without cancer because malignancy and anticancer therapy result in suppression of the immune system. It has also appears that patients with cancer have more severe symptoms and higher death rates from COVID-19 infection than those without cancer. This may be particularly true for patients treated with chemotherapy or who have had surgery in the past 3 months. Patients with active, progressive cancer are at particularly high risk of death. Moreover most cancer patients are older than 60 and many have other health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease and obesity, which also increase the risk of complications and death.

If you have been diagnosed with cancer, are being treated for cancer or are a survivor the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is to avoid exposure to the virus. Avoid unnecessary travel, avoid areas where people gather, particularly indoor spaces, practice physical distancing staying at least 6 feet from others, wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after touching surfaces that might possibly be contaminated with the virus, if soap and water are not available then use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your nose, eyes or mouth as the virus can enter your system through these areas. Clean frequently touched surfaces in your home with cleaning sprays or wipes including door knobs, counters, light switches, phones, keyboards, toilets and other frequently touched surfaces. If you have to go out in public wear a face cover and make your trip as brief as possible, particularly if you are indoors. This helps protect others in case you are infected. Up to 40% of infected people may not be symptomatic. Face covers do not replace the need for physical distancing.  It is fine to walk or exercise outdoors as long as the area is not crowded and you can maintain a distance of 6 feet or more from other people. It is important to stay connected to your support system. Yes we are physically distancing but this does not mean you have to socially isolate. There are many ways to connect with family and friends virtually through FaceTime, Zoom, Instagram, Facebook and many other platforms. Live video chats or live audio chats are more effective at enhancing social connections than emails or texts.  If you do have symptoms concerning for COVID-19 including fever or chills, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, runny nose, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea call ahead to the health care provider you have the most contact with to let them know you possibly might have COVID-19. They will then instruct you what to do.  At this time there is no definitive treatment for COVID-19 and there is no vaccine but there are many research trials studying possible effective treatments as well as a protective vaccine. Until either or both are available the best course of action is avoiding exposure to the virus. 


RESOURCES: 

1) Tian,Y, et al. Cancer Associates with Risk and Severe Events of COVID-19: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Int J Cancer. July 19,2020. 

2) Al-Shamsi, H, et al. A Practical Approach to the Management of Cancer Patients During the Novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic: An International Collaborative Group. The Oncologist. 2020;25:936-945. 

3) Al-Quteimat, O, et al. The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cancer Patients. Am J Clin Oncol;00:1-4. 

4) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html 

5) https://www.cancer.net/blog/2020-07/coronavirus-and-covid-19-what-people-with-cancer-need-know 

6) https://www.nccn.org/about/news/newsinfo.aspx?NewsID=1949 

7) https://www.asco.org/asco-coronavirus-information/care-individuals-cancer-during-covid-19