What Patients In Cancer Treatment Should Know About COVID-19

Our primary objective at the Overlake Cancer Center is to ensure that individuals with cancer continue to receive high-quality cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients undergoing cancer treatment may want to know if they are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 infection, and if they are at increased risk of COVID-19 complications.

Those undergoing cancer treatment appear to be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 infection compared to patients at average risk. Studies from Wuhan, China and Madrid, Spain found that the infection rate among hospitalized cancer patients was two to six times higher than the infection rate in the communities served by the hospitals.

We are also learning more about the severity of complications from COVID-19 infection in those with cancer. Two studies reported at this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting in May (CCC19 and Teravolt) showed a greater risk of death from COVID-19 infection in those who were older (over age 65), who had additional underlying medical conditions, who had decreased functional capacity, who had active cancer, and who were undergoing chemotherapy treatment alone or in combination with immunotherapy.

Of note, immunotherapy treatment and targeted treatment by themselves did not increase the risk of death from COVID-19 infection.

    Take Steps to Protect Your Health

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that if you have cancer or have survived cancer, you might need to take special steps to protect your health:

    • Keep your regularly scheduled medical appointments, unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
    • Do not stop any medications or treatments without talking to your doctor. Chemotherapy is an important tool to treat cancer. Although some types of chemotherapy can weaken the immune system, cancer patients and survivors should continue to take their chemotherapy, if directed by their doctor. Discuss any concerns about your chemotherapy or other cancer treatments with your oncologist.
    • Do not change your cancer treatment plan without discussing it with your doctor.
    • Watch out for fever. Take your temperature anytime you feel warm, flushed, chilled, very fatigued, or not well. Call your doctor right away if you have a temperature of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher.
      • Know the signs and symptoms of infection. Infection during the course of cancer treatment can be very serious. Call your doctor if you notice any of the signs and symptoms of an infection.
    • Find out from your doctor when your white blood cell count is likely to be the lowest, since this is when you’re most at risk for infection.
      • If you have to go to the emergency room, tell the person checking you in that you are a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy. Fever during chemotherapy treatment is a medical emergency and you should be seen quickly.
    • Speak with your doctor about getting an emergency supply of prescription medications. Make sure you have at least 30 days of prescription medications, over the counter medications, and medical supplies on hand in case you need or want to stay home for several weeks.

    It is also important to take steps to care for your emotional health. Fear and anxiety about COVID-19 can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. It is natural to feel concerned or stressed about COVID-19. At the Overlake Cancer Center, we have resources available for your mental healthcare.

    Follow Guidelines to Prevent COVID-19

    The best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus. One of my patients on active treatment told me she wears a face covering when she is out walking in public and carries a sign asking others to wear face coverings, too.

    The CDC recommends that cancer patients follow standard COVID-19 precautions, including:

    • Frequent hand washing and hand sanitizing.
    • Maintaining physical distance from others.
    • Keeping hands away from the face.
    • The use of a cloth face covering over the nose and mouth in public places.
    • Staying home as much as possible.
    • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces including door knobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.

    We want you to know that the Overlake Cancer Center is a safe place to be. We are screening all individuals, including patients, visitors and staff, who enter the facility for fever and symptoms of COVID-19 infection, and we are requiring them to wear a face covering. Only one family member is allowed to accompany the patient to their appointment.

    We care about you and your cancer treatment. COVID-19 is a serious threat to one’s health, and all of us at the Overlake Cancer Center will expertly and compassionately guide you through your cancer care during this pandemic.

    Stephen Lemon, MD is a board-certified medical oncologist at the Overlake Cancer Center.

    Additional COVID-19 resources for cancer patients may be found at cancer.net and cdc.gov.

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