COVID-19 and Cancer

COVID-19 and Cancer

Is this hype or is this real?

The death rate is about 1-3% – not as high as SARS, but about ten times higher than regular influenza.

But because COVID-19 is a new mutation, and humans have no innate immunity, the total number of cases may be extreme – so it could be 1-3% of a very, very large number.

It’s not hype.

It’s real.

How will my cancer treatment be affected?

If you’re currently receiving chemotherapy or radiation for your cancer, your treatments will continue without interruption.

If you’re newly diagnosed, consultations can still be scheduled in person or via a telehealth visit, depending on the nature of your specific problem.

Though non-urgent treatments and follow-up visits were previously on hiatus, as of early May 2020 we’ve resumed scheduling these visits. Depending on the nature of your problem, you may be offered the option of a telehealth visit instead of an in-person clinic visit.

As always, if you’re worried about recurrence or have a problem related to your cancer or its treatment that requires evaluation, we’re able to schedule a clinic visit for you.

Am I at high-risk to get sick from COVID-19?

Although even healthy people can become dangerously ill from COVID-19, the following types of patients are at especially high risk:

  • Patients currently receiving radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy (excluding CML patients taking oral medications)
  • Patients on chronic immunosuppression (such as steroids, anti-rejection medications, or medications for autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or Crohn’s)
  • Patients who’ve ever received chemotherapy for leukemia or lymphoma (excluding CML patients who’ve taken oral medication)
  • Patients who’ve ever undergone a bone marrow or stem cell transplant
  • Patients with advanced stage CLL (> Rai stage 0)
  • Patients with untreated, advanced stage lymphoma (> stage 1)
  • Patients with any type of metastatic, non-hematologic cancer
  • Patients in remission from cancer, but who have significant heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, liver disease, or diabetes

If any of these apply, it is even MORE important to strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines from the CDC and state health agencies – and avoid leaving home if at all possible.

Should I be wearing a mask?

REVISED: 4/3/2020

The CDC now recommends that all Americans wear a non-medical grade mask when leaving their homes.

It’s important to use a densely-woven fabric, because loose-weave fabric (such as T-shirt material) doesn’t keep you from spreading droplets.

Here’s a basic tutorial for sewing one:  

Keep in mind that the mask isn’t to protect you; it’s to protect other people FROM you. Like many thousands of others, you could have an asymptomatic COVID-19 infection – but yet still transmit it to someone else for whom it could be lethal. A properly-made cloth mask can reduce the likelihood that you’ll unintentionally harm someone else.

But masks don’t prevent airborne virus-containing particles from entering through your eyes. 

Masks don’t provide as much protection as good hand-washing, and following the social distancing and isolation recommendations from the CDC.

And you MUST NOT take these new CDC recommendations as an excuse to obtain or use a hospital-grade N95 mask for yourself, and further deplete the limited supply available for those on the front lines.

You have the freedom to keep a safe three-to-six foot distance from others, but healthcare workers don’t. Social distancing remains the most important thing the public can do to keep safe, and healthcare workers still need the N95 masks more than you do.

Use a cloth mask when you go out, not an N95. 

Are there effective treatments for COVID-19?

Because treatment options are so limited, the FDA is approving the use of drugs to treat COVID-19 based on very preliminary evidence.

Though this is an appropriate adaptation to our current circumstances, it may cause some treatments to appear – and then quickly disappear – as further study shows a lack of benefit (as happened with hydroxychloroquine).

At present, only the antiviral drug remdesivir has sufficient evidence to support its use, and it’s currently available for seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

There are presently no known drugs that prevent the illness. And though there’ve been some promising steps forward, a vaccine is still a long way off.

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