7 ways people with cancer can prevent getting infected by COVID-19
COVID-19 or Coronavirus is something we all are grappling with. But the fear of being infected is especially high in people who are either suffering from cancer, their caregivers or have to go to a medical facility for any kind of treatment. This is especially critical for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or stem cell transplant because your immune system is weakened by the treatment.
As Sunrise Oncology Centre, we have had cancer patients who contracted the COVID-19 infection but have recovered beautifully. We understand your fear and would like to allay them.
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, doctors are still learning about the risks COVID-19 infection poses for cancer patients. However, here are some points you need to be aware of:
- Avoid exposure: As a cancer patient, it is especially important for you to reduce your exposure to the virus as much as possible. Avoid going out or meeting outsiders as much as possible. If you really need to, do so with an N95 mask and keep 6 feet away from other people. Totally avoid staying in enclosed spaces.
- Connect with your care team: If you were scheduled for any kind of treatment or surgery, you must get in touch with your cancer care team, ideally virtually, in order to ensure the best course of action.
- Do not skip treatment: If your doctor suggests that you continue the treatment, find out about the precautions being taken for COVID-19. Dr. Bharat Bhosale, Medical Oncologist, Specialist Immunotherapy and Targeted Therapy, Sunrise Oncology Centre, says, “We make sure to space out appointments to minimize contact. We also ensure the patient’s hands are sanitized upon entry into the centre and when they enter the doctor’s examination room. We also make it our priority to educate our patients on the importance of wearing masks, sanitizing their hands regularly, maintaining social distancing and travelling only when needed.”
- Discuss options: If you’re getting treatment for cancer, you should talk to your cancer care team about other options. For instance, you might be able to switch to oral medication instead of having to go in for IV infusion. However, there is a risk attached to getting certain treatments at home, so it is essential you discuss this with your care provider.
- Keep an eye out for symptoms of COVID-19: It mostly starts out like viral fever – fatigue, body ache, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, cough, shortness of breath, new loss of taste or smell, headache, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea. You may notice symptoms anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. If you notice them, please contact your doctor at the earliest and isolate yourself.
- Don’t neglect cancer screening if you notice symptoms. Screening for cancer is an elective procedure and most hospitals have put this service on hold due to the current pandemic. But if you see symptoms of cancer or at a high risk of developing cancer, it is best you speak to your family physician about the need for a screening test.
- Don’t skip blood transfusion. If you require or have been asked to get blood transfusion done as part of your cancer treatment, we recommend you not to skip it. It is a very important aspect for your health.
In order to decide if you should go in for cancer screening, you should consider the following:
- Your risk of getting a certain type of cancer,
- How long it’s been since you were last screened for it,
- How rampant COVID-19 infections are in your region
- Your age and overall health.
That being said, Dr. Bharat Bhosale says, “Do not put off getting medical care if you have signs or symptoms of cancer. Talk to your family physician, who can then assess the situation and refer you to a specialist.”
7. Get blood transfusion if you need to. As per the American Red Cross, there’s no evidence that supports the spread of the coronavirus through blood transfusion (1).
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following to protect yourself from getting infected by SARS-CoV:
- Wear a mask when necessary
- Wash your hands with soap and water for atleast 20 seconds, after going to common areas like the toilet, before you eat and before coming into contact with other people.
- Avoid unnecessary travel, and stay at home as much as you can.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like door knobs, light switches, keyboards, phones, faucets and sinks.
- Stay home as much as possible
- Maintain social distancing