COVID-19 and Cancer
By Kelly Brassil, PhD, RN, director of medical affairs, Pack Health.
While the world has come to a pause during the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing that does not stop is the presence of chronic conditions. This is particularly true of cancer where many individuals are navigating the cancer continuum during the coronavirus pandemic.
An estimated half million individuals have been diagnosed since the first confirmed case of COVID in the United States earlier this year. Unlike other conditions that can be managed primarily at home, cancer often requires in-person, and sometimes, experimental treatment.
For over a decade, I’ve worked as an oncology nurse, supporting individuals across cancer diagnoses. For those who are newly diagnosed, in treatment, or in survivorship, I’ve compiled some commonly asked questions along with suggestions and tips.
Am I at higher risk for COVID and its complications?
Preliminary data suggest that individuals with cancer or a history of cancer, especially those in active treatment, may be at higher risk for severe complications of COVID-19. The best way to reduce your risk is to practice social distancing. This also applies to members of your household or your primary caregiver. If you or your caregiver must leave the home, always use precautions like wearing a mask and frequent hand washing to reduce risk of transmission.
Will I still be able to receive treatment and access care?
Health systems are exploring ways to reduce risk of transmission. One way is to reduce the number of individuals coming into hospitals. This can result in changing the timing of in-person treatment or type of treatment you receive. They are thoughtfully coming up with safe, creative ways for individuals to access care and receive treatment, ranging from implementing telehealth to provide a platform to connect with your oncology team, to transitioning to treatment that can be taken orally or infused at home.
If you are receiving care at a facility far from your home, your care might transition to a nearby cancer provider. In some cases, treatment may need to be held or postponed, particularly if you have symptoms or a confirmed case of the virus. You may be asked to undergo COVID-19 testing prior to a procedure or treatment. Your caregiver may not be able to attend your hospital visits or visit you in the hospital. All of these decisions are made to protect you—ensuring you have the strongest possible immune system and reducing risk of COVID-19 transmission.