What Cancer Patients Should Know About Coronavirus

April 22, 2020

COVID-19 is having an impact on cancer patients, their loved ones, and caregivers. But it’s important to remember that many cancer treatments need to continue. There are things you should know about what your health care team is doing to protect you, and key steps you can take to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19.

Can I continue to receive my cancer treatments?

If you are receiving treatment for cancer you should continue to be treated as long as you are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms. Other things to consider are:

  • Ask your health care provider to help prioritize testing and treatment if you have existing or suspected cancer to make sure that you are seen as quickly as possible.
  • If you take oral cancer drugs, you may be able to have prescribed treatments delivered directly to you so you don’t have to go to a pharmacy.
  • If you have imaging or lab tests regularly, or a long-term follow-up appointment that does not need to happen now, you should speak with your doctor.
  • Some visits can now be being done via telemedicine (a virtual visit with your doctor), and you should call your doctor’s office to see if that’s an option for you.

As a person receiving cancer treatment, am I more at risk for COVID-19?

Some cancer treatments, particularly chemotherapy, can weaken your immune system and can make you more prone to infection. In the case of COVID-19, some patients may be affected more aggressively.

That’s why strict measures are in place to protect you as well as the team providing care. It’s important to take steps to reduce your risk of exposure to the virus and to let your doctor know if you develop any symptoms. This is even more important if you have other health problems, too, such as diabetes or heart disease. It is extremely important that you follow these recommended precautions to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands often and/or use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Maintain physical distancing, staying at least 6 feet away from other people
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow, or into a tissue that you immediately throw away
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home every day
  • Stay home as much as possible, especially if you are sick
  • Do not attend large gatherings

What are hospitals, cancer centers and doctors’ offices doing to protect you from coronavirus?

You may notice some changes to your usual visits to reduce the risk of exposure to you, your family, health care providers, and staff.

  • You can call your doctor’s office the day before your visit to ensure you do not have any symptoms that suggest COVID-19 infection and to make sure you haven’t been exposed to anyone with COVID-19. If there is a chance you have the virus or you know you were exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should speak with your oncology physician and they will assess next steps.
  • You will be asked to wear a mask during your visit, and your health care team will be wearing masks as well.
  • No visitors are currently allowed in many health care facilities, including all of Hackensack Meridian Health’s facilities. If a caregiver is accompanying you to an appointment, that person will be screened, wear a mask, and not be allowed into the treatment area. Caregivers must wait for you elsewhere or come back to pick you up once treatment is complete.
  • You will have your temperature checked at the front desk.
  • If you have symptoms but need to go to your cancer center for care, you will be isolated in a protected room away from other people, and tested for COVID-19.

I am in a clinical trial. Will it still continue?

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

COVID-19 causes flu-like symptoms including cough and breathing difficulty, or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

About 80% of people with COVID-19 will have no or only mild symptoms while others, such as those with a compromised immune system or chronic illness, may experience more severe symptoms and develop pneumonia or respiratory distress.

If I get COVID-19, can I be treated?

There is no proven treatment at this time. That’s why it’s so important to take precautions to avoid infection. If you have mild symptoms, you should stay home and rest, isolate yourself from others and drink plenty of fluids. Stay in touch with your doctor if you have any questions. If you develop serious symptoms, your doctor may advise that you come to the emergency room for possible admission to the hospital to receive supportive care.

I don’t have cancer, but I am caring for someone who does and is receiving treatment. What can I do?

Take the same precautions to avoid exposure to the virus, such as washing your hands, disinfecting frequently touched surfaces in your home, avoiding touching your face, sneezing or coughing into your elbow or a tissue, maintaining social distancing (6 feet apart from others), and staying home as much as possible to avoid bringing the virus back home to your loved one. Consider taking the extra step of monitoring yourself, such as taking your temperature once or twice a day and reaching out to your primary care provider if you develop any symptoms.

Next Steps & Resources

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.