Cancer patients are at higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) as their immune systems are often compromised because of their tumors or due to the treatments they receive.
If you or your loved ones are diagnosed or are being treated for cancer, here are some recommendations to help prevent infection:
Practice Hand Hygiene
Although, ‘wash your hands’ seem like a broken record now, it the single most important piece of advice all the public health experts world over have to offer.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, at least for 20 seconds
- Wash your hands before eating and before touching face, eyes, nose and mouth
- Wash your hands after blowing nose, coughing or sneezing and after using the bathroom
- Wash your hands after touching pets/animals, taking out garbage or collecting trash
- Wash your hands after touching items used by others or visiting a public place
- Wash your hands before and after treating a wound or cut, or caring for your port, catheter or other device
- Always carry a hand sanitizer (preferably alcohol-based) to clean your hands when you are out
- Use alcohol-based sanitizer before and after touching things you often use, such as door handles, ATM or credit card, table surfaces, keys, including any items that are used by other people
Practice Isolation (Social Distancing)
- Stay at home. Avoid non-essential travel.
- Keep at least 6 feet distance (two arm’s length) with anyone, including family members, if possible.
- Stay away from anyone having fever, flu, or any other infection.
- Avoid large crowds (especially in poorly ventilated spaces) like social events, public gatherings, meetings, schools, malls, etc. If you have to be around a crowd, wear a mask.
- If your cancer treating doctor has informed you that you are at high risk for infection and that you have a weakened immune system, you may be advised to stay away from children and limit visitors during COVID-19 pandemic.
Stock up Supplies
- If you, or someone you care takes cancer medication, contact the cancer care team to procure extra medicines to have in hand while you have to stay at home for a prolonged period of time due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
- Ensure enough stock of tissues, hand wash, sanitizers, OTC (over-the-counter) medicines, including other medical supplies to treat fever as well as other symptoms.
- Stock up enough groceries and other household items so that you may be prepared to stay at home for a substantial period of time.
Watch for symptoms and emergency warning signs
Look out for potential symptoms of COVID-19 that include cough, fever and shortness of breath. If you feel that you are developing symptoms of COVID-19, stay at home and call your nearest healthcare centre and let them know. This will not only help them take care of you, but also keep other people from getting exposed or infected.
If you develop the following emergency warning signs for COVID-19, seek medical attention immediately.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Bluish lips or face
- Persistent pressure or pain in the chest
- Inability to arouse or new confusion
Patients Receiving Cancer Treatment at Medical Facility
If you are receiving cancer treatment (E.g. Chemotherapy/Radiation Therapy) at a medical facility, call your health care provider or the treating doctor before going to your next treatment appointment and follow their guidance.
As all health care providers are adjusting their activities to address COVID-19, physicians treating cancer patients may also have to change when and how cancer therapy and follow-up visits can be carried out. Cancer physicians will decide and weigh the risk of missing a cancer treatment or medical appointment against the potential exposure of a patient to COVID-19 infection.
While some cancer treatments can be delayed safely, others cannot. A few routine follow-up visits can be delayed safely or conducted through tele-calling.
For those undergoing Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy, unless they are exposed/showing symptoms of COVID-19 or tested positive, they should continue treatment. – Do not change any course of report back
The main thing cancer patients can do to keep COVID-19 at bay is to wash hand frequently and maintain social distancing. For patients with cancer, ensure thorough and frequent hand-washing, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently, especially if you have to go out. Be sure to avoid crowds, group meetings, social and public gatherings. There are a lot ways you can deal with isolation while making sure you are not close to people. These are the most vital elements to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
In addition, stock your medicines and be sure you are up-to-date with other household items including swipes, sanitizers, etc. Call your treating doctor or contact nearest healthcare centre immediately, if you feel you have any COVID-19 symptoms.
Source: Mayo Clinic and CDC