People who have cancer do not appear to be more likely to contract COVID-19. However, they are among those at serious risk from an infection because their immune systems are often weakened by cancer and its treatments. Experts believe that the more underlying health conditions a person has, the higher their chance of having complications from COVID-19.
People who have cancer are already fighting a serious illness, and they may have other significant medical conditions increasing their risk for serious complications from the virus. The risk is higher for patients who are actively receiving treatment for their cancer (chemotherapy or radiation therapy) and especially high for treatments that involve drugs that suppress the immune system, like stem cell transplant.
Talk to your radiation oncologist about your treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have COVID-19, your scheduled daily radiation treatments would likely need to be paused until you recover from the virus.
If you are receiving chemotherapy in addition to radiation therapy, you are likely at higher risk for serious illness if you contract COVID-19.
It varies depending on the person and the type of chemotherapy. When a typical patient receives chemotherapy, the immune system may become increasingly impaired over the next several days and then begin to recover, usually in time for the next cycle of chemotherapy.
This can vary widely for each individual. Some patients have very little if any immunosuppression, while others can have a compromised immune system for weeks or even longer. If you are receiving chemotherapy, talk to your physician about how long your immune system will be compromised.
Keep at least a 2-week supply of your medications and contact your physician if you need refills. To refill your prescription, you can limit exposure to the virus by using a mail-order service or drive-thru pharmacy, or have a caregiver pick up your medication.
Physicians recommend that people with cancer adhere to the recommendations released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prioritizing physical distancing and hand hygiene. For patients who have had a stem cell transplant, additional measures may be necessary, including wearing a mask when you need to go outside the house. Discuss these precautions with your physician. In general, minimizing contact and keeping 6 feet away from people you interact with is important. You should also eat well, reduce stress and get plenty of sleep.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat or shortness of breath, call your physician immediately.
If you have been exposed to someone who received a COVID-19 diagnosis, you should self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms of the virus. If you begin to experience symptoms, call your physician.
You are not in this alone. In this time of “physical distancing,” it is easy to feel isolated. We should all use this opportunity to reconnect with friends we haven’t spoken to in a while, check in with neighbors and family, and take this time to focus on the people we care about, even if our communication is online, or by telephone or video.
Ask your care team about the supportive oncology services available to you, including the cancer support communities that are offering telephone counseling and online support groups. The Cancer Support Community offers a Cancer Support Hotline and additional resources for patients in need.
Leonidas C. Platanias, MD, PhD, director of Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, recently recorded a podcast to talk about Evolving Cancer Care and COVID-19. It can be downloaded or played directly to help you learn more.
The news about COVID-19 is evolving rapidly. For the latest information, including more detailed responses to some frequently asked questions, please visit the following websites: