In a short amount of time, COVID-19 (or coronavirus disease) has drastically changed life as we know it around the world. As a respiratory disease, COVID-19 affects everyone differently — but it can be especially serious for those who suffer from lung cancer. 

If you or someone you love has lung cancer or is at high-risk for lung cancer, it’s important to know how to best protect yourself against the virus. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between lung cancer and COVID-19, along with the differences, so you can arm yourself with knowledge and stay healthy.

Who is at a High Risk for COVID-19?

Before we dive into the specifics of lung cancer and COVID-19, we want to touch on those who are considered to be at high risk for COVID-19 (which includes cancer patients). 2

Based on current information from the CDC, older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19. According to the CDC, these are the categories of people who are considered high-risk:

  • People 65 years and older
  • People who live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • People with chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
  • People who have serious heart conditions
  • People who are immunocompromised
    • Many conditions can cause a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications
  • People with severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
  • People with diabetes
  • People with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
  • People with liver disease

Differences Between Symptoms of Lung Cancer and COVID-19

When discussing the differences between lung cancer and COVID-19, a good place to start is the symptoms of both. The early signs of lung cancer can be mild and not noticeable until after the cancer has already spread.

Potential symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • A persistent cough
  • Bone pain
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Hoarseness
  • Inexplicable weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Wheezing

COVID-19 can also produce a wide range of symptoms and symptoms can vary from mild to severe depending on the individual. According to the CDC, these symptoms appear 2-14 days after exposure. 1

  • Fever
  • Cough (especially a dry cough)
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills

The CDC also mentions emergency symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should contact your healthcare professional right away. 

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

Lung Cancer Surgery and COVID-19 Patients

The patients who have contracted the most severe cases are those with existing chronic issues like respiratory issues. If you have chronic respiratory issues from surgery, this may mean you’re at a greater risk of getting sick from the virus. Additionally, a history of surgery sometimes leads to less pulmonary reserve (which refers to the maximum amount of air your lungs can physically inhale if you come down with an infection). For this reason, the best thing you can do is protect yourself before the virus hits. 3

How Lung Cancer Patients Can Protect Themselves

The best way that lung cancer patients can protect themselves from COVID-19 is to follow the guidelines as outlined by the CDC. It’s currently understood that lung cancer patients are not more susceptible to the virus but if they get the virus, they are more likely to experience serious complications (due to their underlying disease). For this reason, lung cancer patients have to be vigilant, proactive, and careful to prevent COVID-19. 3

There is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, though you can follow these steps to help prevent the disease. 

Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands after being in public places or after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It’s also important that you do not touch your face or nose after being in public places. If you’re going out in public, make sure to bring hand sanitizer along that’s at least 60% alcohol. When you get home, the first thing you should do is wash your hands (even if you’ve used the hand sanitizer). 

Practice Social Distancing

During this time, it’s crucial to practice social distancing. Even if you miss your friends and family members, keep in mind that some people who are carrying the virus can be asymptomatic. Remind your friends and family that even though you love them — you have to keep your distance. Use modern technology to video call and connect virtually or pick up the phone for a nice conversation. It’s also critical to practice social distancing in public places, like the grocery store or the pharmacy. Remember that if someone sneezes who is infected, you run the risk of getting infected, too. 

Disinfect Common Items

In addition to washing your hands and practicing social distancing, make sure to disinfect common household items — like door handles, remote controls, kitchen countertops. This is especially important if you’re living with other family members or friends. If you’re feeling well enough to go out and about, make sure to disinfect items you bring home (like your cell phone or purse). 

Stay at Home

Of course, the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus and to decrease your risk is to stay where you are. Only leave the house if you have to and for essential travel — like seeking medical care. If you’re currently undergoing treatment like chemotherapy, your immune system can be compromised, which makes it even more important to stay put. Enlist the help of family and friends for running errands and settle into the peaceful nature of a slow-paced day. If you must go to an appointment, read our guide on How to Seek Treatment as a Cancer Patient During COVID-19.

Maintaining Lung Health at Home

In response to common questions from the lung cancer community, Lungevity stresses the idea that it’s helpful to maintain your lung health at home. Start a regular routine of exercises that include core exercises, upper extremity exercises, and breathing exercises (like those you may have learned in a pulmonary rehabilitation program). If you have a dedicated area in your home to practice your exercises, you’ll be more likely to stick to your routine. They also mention that you don’t want to become sedentary. If you feel well enough, move around as often as you can, even if you’re doing indoor-laps around the couch. 3

What About Lung Cancer Screening Trials?

Many people in the lung cancer community have questions about exactly what the impact of coronavirus on lung cancer screening trials is. The United States Food and Drug Administration has issued guidance to clinical trial sponsors, institutional review boards, and researchers on how to progress with lung cancer clinical trials during COVID-19. Patients can also receive their drugs through direct mail to their homes instead of potentially exposing themselves to germs in a pharmacy. So far as infusions, which are important to the lung cancer community, clinical trials that require chemotherapy, immunotherapy, an angiogenesis inhibitor (or a combination) can be shipped to the local infusion center or the patient’s home. 4

Lung Cancer Treatment and at ITC

At Immunity Therapy Center, we focus on holistic cancer treatment and a variety of alternative cancer treatment options. We work to strengthen your immune system — which is always critical, but especially during this time of COVID-19. Your treatment plan is uniquely tailored to you and depends on the type of cancer you have, its stage, and its location. 

Our #1 priority is the health and safety of our patients and staff. That’s why as coronavirus continues to progress, we have been taking all the necessary precautions as outlined by the CDC and World Health Organization. We remain open and accepting new patients to make sure that those with cancer continue to receive the care that they need.

Medical travel to and from Mexico is considered “medical travel” and is still available. When you come to ITC, you can rest assured that your staff has taken all the cautionary measures to ensure your safety. 

At this time, all new patients are being thoroughly screened before being admitted into the facility and we only allow assigned medical specialists and administrative personnel to interact with patients. You can bring a companion along, just know that we’ll kindly ask them to remain in the waiting room.

 If you have any questions at all about our holistic cancer treatment options for lung cancer or how we are responding to COVID-19, feel free to reach out to our team today. 

For more information, see our guides to Coronavirus Resources for Cancer Patients and Can You Get COVID-19 From a Blood Transfusion?

 

Sources:

  1. “Symptoms of Coronavirus.” cdc.gov, (no publication date), https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html. Accessed April 20, 2020.
  2. “People Who Are at Higher Risk for Severe Illness.” cdc.gov, April 15, 2020,

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html. Accessed April 20, 2020.

  1. Frequently Asked COVID-19 Questions for People with Lung Cancer.” lungevity.org, (no publish date), 

https://lungevity.org/for-patients-caregivers/covid-19-and-lung-cancer/frequently-asked-covid-19-questions-for-people-with. Accessed April 20, 2020.

  1. “Coronavirus and Lung Cancer.” lcfamerica.org, April 20, 2020, 

https://lcfamerica.org/research-grants/latest/research/coronavirus-and-lung-cancer-joint-statement-from-lung-cancer-advocacy-groups/. Accessed April 20, 2020.