Precautions & Care during COVID times for Cancer patients

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.

General Measures

  • It is essential to maintain social distance and practice personal hygiene
  • Sanitization of home / work-place at regular intervals
  • Wear mask indoors as well as outdoors
  • Self isolates if someone in the family is having a cough, cold, fever etc.
  • Keep a watch for any abnormal symptom and report to your doctor
  • Maintain Physical & Mental Health
  • Practice Yoga and meditation – preferably first thing in the morning
  • Regular physical exercise 
  • Take enough sleep so you feel fresh in the morning
  • Keep drinking enough fluids for better hydration
  • A balanced, nutritious diet with a lot of vegetables & fruits included in it.
  • Use turmeric, ginger, tulsi etc on a regular basis to boost immunity.

Treatment of Cancer in COVID times

Patients can be divided into three broad groups according to their cancer status and urgency of treatment.

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

Key Take-Home Messages

  • COVID-19 is going to stay – we should learn to live with it and NOT PANIC.
  • Maintain good physical and mental well-being
  • Continue with the daily routine after lockdown is lifted and take adequate precautions
  • Cancer treatment is safe during this time and may need some modifications. It's advisable NOT TO IGNORE your cancer for the fear of COVID-19.
  • Schedule online consultations and minimize hospital visits whenever possible

 

Dr Vedant Kabra

HOD- Surgical oncology

Manipal Hospitals Dwarka

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