How should cancer patients cope in this pandemic?

08 May, 2020

Medical Oncology


COVID-19 is highly contagious, and has higher mortality than usual influenza. Patients who are older, with chronic diseases are more likely to develop serious complications and require respiratory or intensive care support if they get infected. How could cancer patients cope with that?  


Can cancer patients continue anti-cancer treatment under the COVID-19 pandemic?

For patients who are newly diagnosed to have cancer, or when the disease is in its advanced stage, anti-cancer treatment should not be delayed. In fact, as long as the patients remained to be infection-free, all standard treatment such as systemic therapy, radiation therapy, or surgery can be continued. If the patients get coronavirus or any infection, it is crucial to recover fully before receiving anti-cancer treatment to avoid complication. 


Where should cancer patients seek help when they feel unwell?

Cancer patients can have labile health condition. That can be caused by their underlying cancer, complications related to treatment, or many other potential reasons. There are overlapping symptoms between presentation of coronovirus infection and frequent complaints of cancer patients, such as fever, shortness of breath, cough, malaise or even diarrhea. When cancer patients feel unwell, they should contact their attending doctors or seek help from the emergency facility related to their oncology clinic. Doctors would suggest if COVID-19 rapid test is needed according to the patient’s oncology history and presenting symptom.  


How should cancer patents protect themselves?

Measures such as social distancing, washing hands frequently, and rubbing hands with alcohol sanitiser are effective in protecting one from contracting coronovirus. Everyone should wear surgical masks in public area and clinics. Medical-grade N95 or similar air-tight respirators could cause breathing difficulty, or even dizziness or headache in patients, and are not necessary.  To support cancer patients, relatives and friends can simply send their regards using mobile phone to reduce the risk of infection.  Ample rest, stretching exercise, and maintaining a peaceful and relaxing mood can help boost immunity.


Can cancer patients reduce hospital visit if they are worried about the infection?

Many clinics has now implemented new strategy to reduce patient number and strengthen infection control. Some stable patients can consider switching from infusion therapy to oral maintenance therapy, if such option is available. Sometimes, the time between two follow-up appointments can be lengthened temporally. These measures might help reduce the frequency of hospital visit while maintaining cancer treatment.


You may discuss with your doctor or clinic staff if you have any concern.  May all cancer patients continue to stay safe and be able to receive the treatment they need.  


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