Cancer treatment during coronavirus: what you should know

April 22, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

The global pandemic of the COVID-19 virus presents unique challenges for cancer patients and their caregivers.

Though most people who contract COVID-19 will experience mild to moderate symptoms, those with weakened immune systems face a higher risk for complications from the virus.

Individuals undergoing treatments for cancer, including chemotherapy, are among those whose immune systems are already weakened due to their primary illness and treatment regimen. They are at higher risk for complications from COVID-19. Therefore, it is particularly important for cancer patients (and their caregivers) to avoid exposure to the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides steps everyone can take to lower their risk of infection:

  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your bent elbow.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose. If you picked up the virus on your hands, you could allow it to enter your body by touching your face.
  • Practice social distancing. If you must go out, stay at least 6 feet away from people.
  • Wear a facemask when you go out.
  • Stay home when if you are not feeling well.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched hard surfaces daily.

For people with a higher risk of complication from the virus due to underlying health conditions, such as cancer, the CDC recommends taking some extra steps. This includes making sure you have enough of your medications on hand, ensuring your caregiver knows what medications you are taking, and having a plan in place if you get sick.

You may also want to talk to your care team to discuss additional measures you may need to take to help lower your risk. If you are undergoing chemotherapy or are scheduled for a medical procedure, the American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends talking to your healthcare team before your appointment to decide if the treatment or procedure is necessary at this time, and what steps you can take to help minimize exposure.

Some questions the ACS suggests asking your healthcare team include:

  • Will the procedure or treatment put you at a greater risk for infection?
  • Can the treatment or procedure can be delayed? Why or why not?
  • Will a caregiver be allowed to come with you to your treatment or procedure?
  • Will you be allowed to have visitors at home after your procedure or treatment?
  • Can your caregiver go to work after your procedure or treatment?
  • Can blood work, treatment or other care be administered at your home?

Making healthy lifestyle choices — including following a healthy diet when possible, staying hydrated, getting good rest, limiting alcohol intake and not smoking — can also help keep you healthy during this time.

If you experience any symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever, cough or shortness of breath,  contact your doctor’s office by phone for guidance on what steps to take. The CDC does not recommend showing up at your doctor’s office without calling if you are having symptoms of COVID-19. Calling in advance allows your doctor’s office to provide you the best guidance and to prepare for your visit if you are coming in to be checked.

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 you can use our symptom checker or visit our website for other screening options.

For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

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