World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11th March 2020. India has been locked down since the 4th week of March and it has been more than a month now in lockdown. Oncologists and cancer patients along with their caregivers are getting anxious across the world as there is no definitive answer. I will take you through commonly asked questions for COVID-19 and Cancer.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a viral infection caused by a Coronavirus. It typically leads to flu-like symptoms in a majority but in few, it can lead to life-threatening complications including Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Multi-organ Failure, etc.
Are Cancer Patients at increased risk of infection?
As it is a Novel virus, immunity in the general population is low. Above this, patients with ongoing treatment are having low immunity either due to the disease or systemic therapy. Some cancer symptoms are similar to the symptoms of COVID-19, thus making it difficult to diagnose. Patients on chemotherapy have low immunity and hence are more vulnerable to the infection.
Can we delay Cancer therapy till the pandemic subsides?
Cancer is a complex disease. If not treated, it continues to progress with time. Thus, we need to understand that COVID-19 and Cancer are difficult to deal with during such a situation. There are no absolute answers to most of the questions. It is only a judgment call after discussing the risk-benefit ratio with the patient. Decisions are individualized based on age, fitness, comorbidities, stage of the disease, previous side effect profile, etc. I urge patients to consult their Oncologists and understand the way forward.
What are the precautions to be taken by the patient?
- Patients coming for treatment should disclose if they have any symptoms related to COVID-19 or have any history of contact with an infected person.
- Patients should be accompanied by one caregiver only.
- Masks, hand wash, social distancing norms should be strictly followed while in the hospital.
- If you are unable to travel due to restrictions than you can ask for a letter from the treating hospital.
- Even if you decide not to take the treatment for cancer during COVID-19, you should ask for options that are feasible in the available resources to your Oncologists.
- Avoid unnecessary travel except for treatment.
- Patients and Cancer survivors can keep themselves healthy by consuming a regular diet, avoiding stress, exercising, etc. and thus boost their immunity during this difficult time to come out as victorious in the pandemic.
I wish the best of health to all the Cancer patients. Stay Safe.