The COVID-19 pandemic has increased anxiety levels across the globe, but this is a unique experience for cancer patients, filled with different kinds of challenges. Due to their compromised immune system, cancer patients are more vulnerable to infection, especially those who have recently received, or are currently receiving cancer treatments.
This risk is substantial, leaving cancer patients around the world with hundreds of questions that may not be able to be answered immediately by experts who may be distracted or unavailable during this time. The pandemic can also be a terrifying experience for caregivers, leaving them unsure on how to specially care for their loved ones during this time.
Below are answers to six common cancer-related questions during the coronavirus pandemic, answered by Dr. Daniel Vorobiof, renowned oncologist, and medical director of Belong.Life:
Q1. How does my treatment affect my immune system?
A. Different treatments affect the immune system in different ways, and depending on your body, each patient can react differently, too. Fortunately, online you can find immune system secrets and products that are scientifically studied to help guide your choice. Let’s take a look at the effects of some of the most common treatments on a patient’s immune system, and the risks they can cause:
Chemotherapy can be administered using various methods, doses, and schedules. Examples of this are oral, intravenous or intracavitary chemotherapy, which can be administered at low, regular, or high doses on a daily, weekly or every few weeks’ basis.
Because of these dynamics, it is very difficult to measure chemotherapy’s exact effect on the immune system. Suffice to say that, as a rule, all patients with cancer who are actively receiving chemotherapy will be immunocompromised from the moment the treatment begins until 6-24 months after the treatment has ended.
Local radiation therapy, the application of high energy x-rays to an area of the body where the cancer was found, doesn’t usually have a significant impact on the immune system.
Radiation is more likely to weaken your immune system if it’s directed at the bones, especially the pelvic bones, which is where the marrow functions as a blood cell factory. Bone radiation can have the same effect on the immune system to that of chemotherapy.
It is known that surgical procedures can influence the general stress levels in the body, inducing the suppression of the immune system that can last between weeks and months before the body fully recovers.
Immunotherapy, or biological treatment, uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. Patients receiving these treatments are more predisposed to infections, as their already immunocompromised status is further affected by the treatments.
Q2. What is my susceptibility to catching the virus?
A. Every immunocompromised person is at a higher risk of infection and therefore more susceptible to be infected in times of an epidemic or pandemic. To lower your chances of contracting the COVID-19 infection, practice the following rules:
- Stay home as much as possible
- Practice social distancing
- Wash your hands regularly
- Wear a mask and gloves when visiting the doctor or medical center
Q3. Should I receive my treatment as usual?
A: This is a much more complicated question, where a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ might not apply to every cancer patient.
I Am Receiving Adjuvant Chemotherapy
This chemotherapy treatment has curative intent and when possible must not be delayed – the patient must begin their treatment or continue with their regular treatment schedule as usual.
I Am Receiving Treatment for Advanced Cancer
Treatments delays or long breaks between treatments for advanced cancer patients might worsen the patient’s conditions and loss of the best window opportunity to treat. Due to this, every decision should be made according to the patient’s specific situation (treatment tailoring), as there is no blanket regulation in this regard.
Q4. How do I manage my illness around my family/children/colleagues during this time?
A: You must continue in a similar way that you were managing before but apply stricter preventative measures. These include social distancing, home isolation, practicing good hygiene and remaining in contact with family, friends, and colleagues only via phone and video.
Q5. How do I protect the cancer patient I am caring for?
A: Being a caregiver for a cancer patient is a very strenuous role, and even more so in these current difficult times. Your protection is as important as that of the cancer patient to which you are attending. Therefore, you need to also follow the known preventative measures and listen regularly to the health authorities’ announcements, adjusting the measures you’re taking according to any new information received.
Q6. What do I need to be aware of as a caregiver?
A: As a caregiver, you need to be aware of any symptom changes happening to the patient you are caring for. Specific worrisome signs to watch out for are:
- Dry cough
- Fatigue and dyspnoea (shortness of breath)
Keeping the cancer patient at home, away from crowds, and strictly practicing social distancing is the most important thing you can do as a caregiver.
Cancer patients are perhaps better prepared than many to face this pandemic. They have developed resilience and learned to live in the present. But those battling cancer also have to take extra steps to stay healthy, taking the necessary measures and following all the rules to ensure that they, and those around them, will be kept safe and healthy.
Dr. Daniel Vorobiof is the Medical Director of Belong.Life, the world’s largest social network and navigator app for cancer patients, caregivers, and medical professionals. He is the founder and former medical director of the Sandton Oncology Centre in Johannesburg and has published more than 100 peer reviewed articles in international medical journals. He formerly served as an executive board member of the International Committee of ASCO. Dr. Vorobiof is based in Caesarea, Israel.
Cancer patients and caregivers can pose additional questions and receive information on the Belong.Life Cancer & Coronavirus group. Download the app here: https://belong.life/download-eng/
Dr. Daniel Vorobiof is Medical Director of Belong.Life.
You can find gift ideas for cancer patients at HelpThemFight.com