Do cancer patients need to be more cautious with Coronavirus

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken the entire world for a spin and things have changed in a way we did not see coming. However, one major part of our lives that got disrupted to the point of complete collapse has probably been healthcare, which is ironic – considering that it is a health emergency that got us here. Given the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus, patients being treated for other afflictions have been severely affected due to the abrupt halt in medical services, including cancer patients. This blog explores whether or not the coronavirus affects cancer patients worse than others, and the kind of caution measures one needs to adopt if that is the case.

Are cancer patients/survivors/people with family history at additional risk?

Patients currently being treated for cancer, due to the nature of cancer treatments, have a weakened immune system – making them susceptible to contracting other afflictions, including the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This also applies to active treatments of all diseases, especially the ones involving immunotherapies. Cancer survivors whose treatments ceased a few years ago may have a marginally stronger immune system but the need for caution remains the same. The SARS-CoV-2 virus, as novel as it is, essentially causes influenza which might worsen to a severe extent, depending on the host’s immunity – hence anyone with a compromised immune system needs to be particularly cautious. There has not been enough conclusive data for people with a prior family history of cancer, however, the same cautionary tale applies here as well.

Do cancer patients need different cautionary measures as compared to others?

The SARS-CoV-2 is a new member of the coronavirus family and responsible for the current pandemic, its symptoms ranging from common colds to further serious respiratory issues. The virus is believed to spread by close contact through respiratory droplets, but it can also linger in the air or on surfaces, especially in enclosed areas without proper ventilation. Preventive measures against coronavirus remain the same regardless of present/previous medical history since there is no vaccine for the virus yet. While it is true that patients with a compromised immune system need to be more cautious, the measures they can take remain the same – frequently washing hands with soap, using alcohol based hand sanitizers in case of unavailability of soap/water, and covering the face when outside – besides maintaining a minimum distance of 6 feet when in presence of company.

How the novel coronavirus has affected cancer treatment:

  • The novel SARS-CoV-2 spreads mostly by close contact, including touching contaminated surfaces or by sharing the same space with someone infected, particularly if the people in concern do not have their face masks on. This has severely impacted cancer treatment since most of such therapies can not be conducted at home – the patient must go to healthcare facilities for their chemotherapy/surgery/drug administration – thereby exposing themselves to potential contamination, even with the usage of protective gear. Cancer patients being treated with radiotherapy, bone marrow/stem cell transplant, immunosuppression drugs are particularly vulnerable.
  • Cancer treatments also tend to be psychologically taxing – not being able to have a friend/family member present during the treatment due to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic situation is an additional stress against cancer patients.
  • Given how quickly the virus spreads, healthcare facilities/hospitals are being overrun with Covid patients – resulting in scheduled treatments for other afflictions getting delayed/postponed/cancelled, which in turn further affects the process of recovery.
  • Slightest negligence on part of the patient/doctor/nurses in terms of taking precaution can result in Covid infection, which would further weaken their immune system.

Given the novel nature of Covid virus,  there is very little that we can be certain of when it comes to its symptoms, treatment and recovery. Cancer patients and their family members are advised to consult their respective oncologists before scheduling/postponing appointments and adopt all possible caution in the meanwhile.