The coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic has sent waves of fear and apprehension across the globe — especially for cancer patients.

If you or someone you love is currently undergoing treatment, or in the process of seeking treatment, we know there is a lot to think about and tons of questions to be answered.

Because cancer patients can have weakened immune systems, they are at a higher risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus, and it’s crucial to arm yourself with knowledge and know-how to progress safely and correctly. Let’s take a closer look at the new process for seeking treatment, as well as the symptoms to look for, and the best ways to protect yourself. 

Understanding the New Process for Seeking Treatment

As the coronavirus situation evolves, many patients are trying to understand what the new process looks like for seeking treatment. Here are the best ways to seek treatment as a cancer patient. 4

Talking to Your Doctor

If you are currently receiving treatment for cancer, the first step is to call your healthcare provider or doctor before going to your next treatment appointment (if you haven’t already). All health care systems will adjust their daily routines in light of COVID-19. During this time of apprehension and uncertainty, remind yourself that it’s okay to ask questions. Talk to your doctor about the steps they’re taking to sanitize the office and minimize the number of patients they see at once. All doctors have a game plan — so make sure to stay in the loop with yours. If this is stressful for you, enlist the help of a family member or friend as the point of contact between you and your doctor. Because the coronavirus situation changes daily, keeping the communication line open with your medical team is key. 

Physical Visits and Treatments

Depending on the cancer treatment center, doctors might change how they see their patients and how often they come in for follow-up visits. Remember that every cancer is unique, so physical visits during the time of the pandemic also have to do with your particular cancer, its stage, and your overall health. At Immunity Therapy Center, we pride ourselves in taking high-standard precautions when seeing patients — Call us to ask any question you may have on our process during this time.

Medicine and Prescriptions

If you’re currently taking oral cancer drugs, there’s a chance that your prescribed treatments can be sent directly to you, so that you don’t have to expose yourself to germs in a pharmacy. Again, you can also ask for help from a family member or friend who might be willing to pick your medicine up for you. The idea is that — even if you’re feeling good — you want to stay home as much as possible. 

Is the Risk Higher for Cancer Patients in Treatment?

Currently, we researchers are still learning how the virus impacts those who have cancer. Data from China suggests that patients with cancer have a high risk of complications — with a higher risk in those cancer patients that have more than one chronic medical condition. 3

It’s also believed that patients diagnosed with blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myelomas, might be at a higher risk than those individuals with other cancers. Because they start in the bone marrow, cancers can disrupt the normal production of immune cells and affect the lymph system (like the spleen, thymus and lymph nodes), which help to store immune cells and rid the body of toxins. COVID-19 is a respiratory virus and due to the way it attacks the lungs, patients with lung cancer have a higher risk of experiencing severe symptoms. For more information, see our guide to Coronavirus Resources for Those with Lung Cancer. Cancer patients who are undergoing treatment might also have a higher risk, particularly those who are using chemotherapy drugs (as these drugs might decrease your body’s overall ability to fight infection). 3

Know the COVID-19 Symptoms 

Those diagnosed with COVID-19 experience a wide range of symptoms. Whether you are a cancer patient or a caregiver, it’s important to know what symptoms to look for.

According to the CDC, these symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and can range from mild to severe illness. 1

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills

There are also emergency warning signs some patients develop. If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention right away.

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

Remember that symptoms can be mild and if you think you may have been exposed to COVID-19, inform your healthcare professional right away. 

How the Virus Spreads

According to the CDC, the virus spreads mainly from person to person. This means that when somebody who is infected coughs or sneezes, the virus can spread through respiratory droplets. The droplets can come into contact with the mouths or noses of people who are in close contact (about 6 feet) with the individual. These droplets can also land on surfaces and lead to infection if a person touches his or her mouth or nose. As a cancer patient, it’s crucial that you follow the right steps to protect yourself.

How to Protect Yourself

Because there is currently no vaccine for coronavirus, cancer patients seeking treatment (and their caregivers) must follow the guidelines as rigorously as possible. 2

Disinfect Everything

Use household disinfectants on items that are frequently touched — like cell phones and remote controls. Disinfect door handles, surfaces and countertops, and keyboards. If a family member goes to grab a prescription or to get groceries, make sure to disinfect the items once they are brought home. Remember, the virus can live on surfaces — and if you touch something like a cell phone that has respiratory droplets on it, followed by touching your eye or nose, this is how the virus is contracted. 

Stay Home

Stay home as much as you can, even if you’re feeling up for going out and about. It’s suggested that everyone, even those who are perfectly healthy, limit their travel to only travel that is essential. For cancer patients undergoing treatment, we suggest only going out if it’s for medical reasons. Family, friends, and caregivers will be happy to get your groceries and run errands. The more you expose yourself to germs and the public, the greater your risk for infection. Stay home and stay healthy (preferably with a line up of good books, movies, and crafts).

Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands! This is perhaps one of the single most important pieces of advice for all of us during this time of uncertainty. Wash your hands as often as possible. The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds every time. Wash your hands after you sneeze, use the bathroom, or blow your nose. Do not touch your face, especially if you are out in public. If you must go out, bring hand sanitizer with you that is at least 60% alcohol and wash your hands upon returning home (don’t forget to disinfect the front door). 

Make a Plan

If you’re living with family members, make a plan on what you’ll do if someone in the household gets sick. If you’re currently undergoing treatment, and your immune system is weakened, you want to avoid contact with the family member. Use a separate bedroom and bathroom, wash dishes and utensils using gloves and hot water, and make sure that the person who is sick wears a face covering. The CDC is an excellent resource for ideas on caring for someone who is sick at home and the National Cancer Institute provides some wonderful Emergency Resources for the Cancer Community. You can also call NCI’s Cancer Information Service (CIS) if you have further questions for yourself or a loved on about COVID-19. Call 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. ET in English or Spanish. After business hours, recorded information is also available. 4

At Immunity Therapy Center, we know that seeking treatment for cancer can be tough, especially at a time like this. That’s why our team has taken great strides toward creating an environment that is clean and safe. 

Our clients’ health and safety are our #1 priority. We remain open and accepting new patients during this time while also ensuring that those with cancer and other diseases can continue to receive the care they need.  

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. Cancer Caregiving During the Coronavirus Outbreak.” cancer.org, March 24, 2020, https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/cancer-caregiving-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak.html. Accessed April 20, 2020.
  3. “Frequently asked questions about COVID-19.” cancercenter.com, (no publish date), 

https://www.cancercenter.com/covid19/frequently-asked-questions. Accessed April 20, 2020.

  1. “What People with Cancer Should Know.”cancer.gov, April 9, 2020, https://www.cancer.gov/contact/emergency-preparedness/coronavirus. Accessed April 20, 2020.