We are facing an unprecedented crisis due to COVID-19 which has gripped the whole world in a panic. Cancer patients who have been diagnosed recently or are undergoing treatment feel themselves to be more vulnerable. Those treated for cancer in past and doing fine currently are also concerned. This anxiety of having/having had cancer combined with social media that is flooded with inaccurate information is adding to the confusion and anxiety
I want to assure cancer patients that for most of the cancer patients, treatment can continue as planned while others may need some modifications in the treatment sequence or intensity. I agree that cancer patients currently under treatment are more susceptible to get COVID-19 infection which could be more serious and have a worse outcome as compared to the normal population. It should be understood that diabetic, hypertensive (high BP) and those having heart problems have a worse outcome as compared to cancer patients if they catch COVID-19 infection. Any combination of these diseases does increase the risk of complications further.
Here are a few measures that a cancer patient must take to avoid getting COVID-19 and how the cancer treatment may be affected.
Patients can be divided into three broad groups according to their cancer status and urgency of treatment.
Patients who are currently free of disease (i.e. treated > 3 mths ago) are not at increased risk of COVID-19 as compared to the normal population. They should follow all the precautions mentioned above, minimize travel and continue with their usual medications. It is advisable to delay follow up visits to their oncologists and the tests if they are not absolutely necessary. You can schedule an online consultation with your oncologist to understand the urgency of follow-up or tests. If needed, go to a facility closer to your home
The patient currently undergoing treatment for cancer should continue their treatment as far as possible and discuss with their oncologist about any treatment modification that might be needed. Choose a hospital closer to home and minimize travel/hospital visits. Since most cancer treatments affect the immunity to some extent, you may consider self-isolation at home to avoid catching any infection from other family members. Needless to say, all above-mentioned precautions must be observed.
A patient who symptoms suspicious for cancer or has been diagnosed with cancer in the recent past should not panic or feel undue stress. Discuss the details of your cancer – stage, treatment options & sequence, complications, expected outcome and consequence of delaying treatment with your oncologist. The tests advised by the oncologists should be completed as early as possible and in a minimum number of visits to the hospital. Cancers grow at varying pace and patients with a very slow-growing cancer may wait for a few weeks before treatment begins without any significant harm. You may also take another opinion.
Finally, discuss with your oncologist and family members to chart out a course of actions vis-à-vis treatment, arranging logistics & finances and plan for expected problems.
HOD- Surgical oncology
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