What cancer patients need to know in the time of Coronavirus
INQUIRER.net BrandRoom / 02:15 PM June 12, 2020
MANILA, Philippines – There is understandably extra anxiety nowadays among cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers due to the pandemic situation. Although no systematic reports are available demonstrating higher Covid-19 incidence or asymptomatic infection among persons living with cancer, those with active cancer are classified as immune-compromised. The risk among cancer patients is based on the type of cancer they have, the type and timing of treatment, underlying health conditions, and the age of the patient.
People with cancer feel overwhelmed by the complications posed by coronavirus in addition to the burden they already carry, and they wonder whether to delay or push on with treatments at this time. To help them take a science-backed, proactive approach to cancer management, here are some strategies that patients and their loved ones can apply so they can make well thought-out decisions amid the challenges of the “new normal”:
1. Talk to your oncologist. To ease one’s worries, it is vital to schedule a consultation with the oncologist as soon as possible via videoconferencing or by phone. Discussions can revolve around issues that include the goals of the cancer treatment; magnitude of benefits to the patient; side effects, if any; available supportive care to reduce side effects.
Remember that the cancer doctor is the only qualified person to make a risk/benefit assessment based on whether one’s case is high priority (the condition is life-threatening or unstable, or the survival rate/improvement in quality of life far outweighs the risks involved); medium priority (the patient’s situation is not critical but further delay could impact health outcomes); or low priority (the condition is stable enough to justify rescheduling after the pandemic eases or benefits from the treatment are almost non-existent).
2. Prepare and plan. Cancer patients and their caregivers should learn to recognize the symptoms of coronavirus infection: fever, cough, sore throat, breathing problems, muscle pain, tiredness, loss of the sense of smell, and impaired sense of taste. Cancer patients that present with fever or came in contact with someone who has coronavirus must consult their doctor over the phone so they can be advised how and where to proceed. The possibility must be considered, and evaluation should not be performed at the oncology center given the risk it may pose to cancer patients and the treatment staff.
Caregivers are likewise in danger of contracting Covid-19 which is why it is advisable to prepare for such a scenario to enable those involved to act quickly: identify whom to contact, who else is available to support the patient in place of the caregiver, and so forth.
3. Obtain distance assistance. Caregivers may want to consider seeking remote help because of additional precautionary responsibilities and the current quarantine situation. Take advantage of online grocery and medicine delivery services, enlist help when updating concerned persons on the status of the patient, and assign another to contact healthcare providers since cancer centers may have new guidelines concerning the number of visitors and the age of caregivers. It is imperative that the caregiver is also practicing self-care as this can help boost the immune system.
4. Incorporate preventive habits. Guidelines of the World Health Organization must be observed to lower the chances of acquiring the severe respiratory disease. It is best to avoid crowds and practice social distancing from relatives and friends exhibiting Covid-19 symptoms or living in areas where there is continuing incidence of the illness. Regular and proper handwashing remains one of the best precautions against coronavirus. For cancer patients making hospital visits and treatments, make sure to wear personal protective equipment or PPE. The National Foundation for Cancer Research advises to have a sanitizing area dedicated to changing clothes and shoes before walking around the house, and to have separate outfits when going outside and staying in.
5. Observe a healthy lifestyle. Keep in mind the customized recommendations of your oncologist to improve your immune system. These may include having optimum sleep, proper hydration, avoiding tobacco products, and eating a balanced diet rich in protein, fruits, and vegetables which can provide the body with tools to prevent and fight the Covid-19 infection.