Onco.com’s expert panel of oncologists have answered the top 10 queries from cancer patients across the world. These FAQs provide an action plan for cancer patients for the prevention of infection and for continuing with their treatment.
Who are at high risk of developing COVID-19?
Answer: Although anyone can be infected by COVID-19, by what we know today, three groups of people are considered to be at higher risk: older people (age more than 60 years), very young children (under 2 years) and those already suffering from an underlying medical condition like diabetes, heart ailments, asthma etc.
You are also considered high risk if you are undergoing cancer treatment, treatment for autoimmune diseases, or having an organ transplant or a bone-marrow transplant, as these procedures tend to lower your immunity.
I am at high risk for COVID-19 as my immune system has been compromised. What precautions can I take to protect myself?
Answer: Here are the most effective ways to protect yourself and others:
- Frequently wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes and nose.
- Maintain a distance of at least one meter with people around you.
- Cover your own cough with the bend of your elbow or a tissue and drop tissue in the dustbin later.
- Avoid crowded areas to prevent cross-infection and contamination but if you cannot, use a mask to protect yourself from the droplet infection when visiting very crowded places.
- Avoid close contact within the family members to avoid getting infection.
Because my immunity is low, should I wear a face mask even though I do not suffer from COVID-19?
Answer: Generally, it is advised that only people who are sick should wear a mask to avoid transmitting the disease to others. However, in view of your low immunity status during cancer treatment, it is better that you wear a mask when interacting with anyone outside your home.
Will a cancer patient suffer from different symptoms for coronavirus?
Answer: No, the symptoms for COVID-19 will be the same for cancer patients as for the general population.
Will my cancer treatment be affected because of coronavirus restrictions?
Answer: The wards treating COVID-19 are completely isolated from other wards. This should allow your cancer treatment to continue as planned but as we might see growth in the number of infected individuals visiting hospitals, your oncologist will advise you to avoid hospital visit. It is best to discuss with your treating oncologist if there is any likelihood of your treatment being postponed and the severity of COVID-19 in your area.
Will I have to discontinue my cancer treatment due to risk of coronavirus?
Answer: You can continue with the planned treatment after assessing the risk of coronavirus infection to you with the treating oncologist team and status of the number of infected people being treated in the hospitals. If you develop any symptoms of coronavirus, like fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, please report to your treating oncologist immediately for any change in your treatment plan.
Should I stop going for chemotherapy sessions due to the coronavirus situation?
Answer: Chemotherapy with curative intent should not be discontinued until suggested by treating oncologist. Consult your treating oncologist before making any changes to your treatment plan. Patients with a poor general condition or those on palliative chemotherapy are being advised to postpone chemotherapy treatment.
During chemotherapy, your body becomes more susceptible to infections. Appropriate supportive and hygiene measures, as listed under question 2, have to be followed to prevent infections.
Since hospitals tend to have a large number of patients in a small space, should I avoid visiting hospitals?
Answer: It is advisable to visit a hospital only if it is absolutely necessary. You can try contacting your oncologist over the phone for advice. Call Onco.com helpline to talk to our oncologists and get guidance.
How do we know if we should opt for hospital treatment or for out-patient or telephonic consultations?
Answer: Discuss with an oncologist on a call and understand your options before visiting hospital. If your symptoms do not show improvement when treated at home, you need to visit a doctor for clinical assessment. The doctor will assess the severity of the infection and accordingly recommend a course of treatment.
Is cancer survivor at a higher risk of COVID-19 than other people?
Answer: If your cancer is in remission, or if you are disease-free without currently undergoing any active cancer-directed therapy, then your risk for COVID-19 is the same as the rest of the population except for patients with blood or lung cancer or elderly age group who still carry a high risk.
How long does it take for the immune system to recover after cancer treatment?
Answer: It differs from person to person. The time taken by a person to restore immunity depends on the type of cancer and treatment that you had. It usually takes 3 – 4 weeks for the immune system to recover after completion of chemotherapy but complete recovery may take a few months to a year in some people. Some people may restore immunity earlier or delayed. Consult your doctor who might ask for few tests to answer this question.
If you or your loved one is diagnosed with cancer and has any queries regarding coronavirus and impact on cancer, you can call Onco.com COVID 19 Cancer patients helpline at +91-7996579965. Our Care Managers will be happy to help you.