COVID-19 and cancer are two medical conditions that are quite common as of now. The rising number of COVID-19 cases has birthed so much worry especially amongst cancer patients whose condition and treatment can reduce their ability to combat the infection.
Living with cancer in this crisis of COVID-19 pandemic may be terrifying as to the report that persons living with cancer have their immune-suppressed and unable to combat the virus. You might be wondering how you would cope with COVID-19 and cancer.
What is coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a family of viruses that attacks mainly the host’s respiratory system while causing a range of symptoms that can be life-threatening when they develop into complications.
Human coronaviruses are a type of coronavirus that causes respiratory problems in humans. They are three known human coronaviruses – Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and COVID-19.
COVID-19 is the newest of human coronavirus and most infectious one. This illness causes respiratory problems in humans by affecting the lungs and airways.
For most people, the symptoms are mild or not visible, and it is easy for them to recover, but there are some people that are not that fortunate. They experience severe symptoms and develop complications which may be life-threatening.
Unfortunately, People living with cancer are part of the people that are at increased risk of severe symptoms and the development of life-threatening complications. This is a result of their condition, and the treatments can weaken and suppress their immune systems.
Therefore, having both COVID-19 and cancer can be challenging, not only for the patient but for the health workers that are giving healthcare to patients as well.
How cancer treatment can weaken immunity?
The immune system fights to protect the body from suffering from illness and infection caused by pathogens such as coronavirus.
Some people living with cancer have their immune system weakened due to their conditions, and this reduces their ability to resist and combat these infections.
Cancer patients undergo chemotherapy in order to control cancer cells and their effects. However, this form of treatment can make the bone marrow to stop making enough leukocyte and leukocytes are blood cells that combat certain pathogens by engulfing them.
Therefore, they are an important part of the immune system. Being diagnosed with COVID-19 and cancer makes it difficult to handle the situation.
There are some types of cancer that can also reduce your ability to combat infection. Usually, it is cancers like lymphoma and leukaemia that have the highest effects because they affect the immune system grossly.
What to do if symptoms of the coronavirus persist?
If you test positive to COVID-19 and you are living with cancer, you are likely to experience some of the following symptoms:
- Fever of high temperature of above 37.8C
- Persistent cough. This is when you start coughing much more than hours of coughing episodes that may be worse than the usual cough that you use to have, that is if you have.
- Loss of your natural sense of smell and/or taste
You should contact your healthcare provider immediately you sense that you have any or all of theses symptoms or that you feel sick.
Your medical team will be there to appraise you over the phone and from their evaluation, they might ask you to stay home.
The Vulnerable Groups
Some people living with cancer are more likely to suffer severely from COVID-19 if they contract it. These people should not be exposed to the virus, moreso be diagnosed with COVID-19 and cancer because they are the groups that are most vulnerable and susceptible to severe Covid-19 illness.
You are advised and encouraged to adopt certain measures to ensure you are strictly protected from COVID-19 if you fall among these vulnerable groups:
- If you are going through chemotherapy
- If you are going through radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
- If you are living with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma and at any stage in treatment
- If you are going through immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
- If you are going through other targeted cancer treatments which may affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
- If you have gone through bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months,
- If you are still taking immunosuppression drugs
- If you are not really sure of the treatment, you are currently having
If you fall under any of the aforementioned groups, you are encouraged to talk to your healthcare provider.
What is shielding?
Shielding is measures applied to protect you from contracting COVID-19 and saves you from the severe effects of COVID-19. These measures involve you staying home, avoiding public places as well as face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks.
You may continue to have visits from people who only help you with necessary support such as; healthcare providers.
This also involves the following measures :
- All visitors including healthcare providers should wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds once they get to your home
- Avoid anyone who you suspect may have COVID-19 symptoms
- Stay home and avoid public contact
- Avoid any form of family and social gatherings.
- Ask friends and families to arrange shopping for you and leave the groceries at your doorstep
- Spend less time with those you live in the same house with such as the kitchen, dining room, or living room and keep these areas well ventilated.
- Maintain at least 6 meters away from the people you live with. Best sleep in different beds
- Avoid the sharing of personal belongings such as; towels, dishes, clothes, etc.
- Don’t share the same bathroom and toilet if possible. If you need to share a toilet and bathroom, it should be cleaned before and after use.
- Everyone should adopt the habit of washing hands often
- Avoid touching your face
- Clean adequately, frequently touched surfaces.
You have the sole right to decide how best to protect yourself. Unfortunately, there are some cancer patients that have their lives limited, thus, they may decide not to fully adopt all the shielding measures.
Being a COVID-19 and cancer patient would mean that you should pick measures that you can comfortably go with.
Guidance on shielding and protecting people in vulnerable groups
You may think that you are capable of doing this alone, but you are not. Being a patient of COVID-19 and cancer means that you may need help from other people. However, you still need help from other people if you are a cancer patient trying not to contract COVID-19.
During shopping, you may ask your friends and family to help pick up groceries, or you might have your goods delivered if possible. You might even have a local volunteer group to help you with the shopping.
These local volunteer groups were organized to help cancer patients as well as COVID-19 and cancer patients, at this time of need. Contacting them may be of great help to you, and while they do the shopping chore for you, they do not ask for your penny but just for your smiles. That is what they work for.
Times like this can be really challenging for everyone. The pandemic and its dread is something we believe we will all defeat that is if we all work together by taking precautionary measures to ensure that we do not only protect ourselves but our loved ones and the people around us.
Somehow, the recovery rates of COVID-19 is relatively high, and the fatality rate is relatively low. Sometimes, we may be fit enough for our bodies for combat and defeat this virus, but sometimes we are not. Shielding measures are to be applied strictly to avoid having COVID-19 and cancer at the same time.
Cancer patients are most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness, and thus, it is not only left for them to protect themselves, but we have ways of contributing to their well-being.
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- ESMO Webinar Series in the COVID-19 era; ESMO
- Coronavirus: What People with Cancer Should Know; Cancer.gov