With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many cancer patients are not only worried about their treatment being delayed, but whether they are more susceptible to getting the virus than others who are not cancer patients. There is currently no evidence to suggest that people with cancer are more likely to get a COVID-19 infection compared to the general population.
However, there is an urgent need to gain a broader understanding of risk factors associated with severity and outcome of COVID-19 in patients with cancer, including the risk associated with different types of cancer therapy. The COVID-19 global pandemic has drastically impacted cancer care, posing challenges in treatment and diagnosis.
Are Cancer Patients at a Higher Risk to Serious Illness From COVID-19?
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds, there is emerging evidence that cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to infection and adverse events, with poorer outcomes than the general population. Some cancer treatments such as chemotherapy can weaken your immune system and may increase your risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Other risk factors may also increase your risk for severe illness include:
- Lung disease
- Heart disease
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
There is increasing evidence that some cancer patients may be at higher risk of severe complications from COVID-19. These risk factors are:
- Advanced age
- Significant comorbidities
- Metastatic disease
- Receiving active immunosuppressive therapy
For patients receiving outpatient treatments, oncologists are trying to choose regimens that minimize time in the clinic. Specifically, for patients with cancer that causes a higher risk of immune inefficiency.
How Has COVID Affect Cancer Treatment?
Some cancer treatment centers may require a negative COVID-19 test before cancer treatment starts again. If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you should have a discussion with your oncologist about the impact of this on your cancer treatment. In this situation, your health care team will consider the risks and benefits of restarting cancer treatment despite the positive test.
Universal baseline SARS-CoV-2 testing in patients with cancer is an important factor in completing oncologic treatments safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. This testing can also ensure the safe continuation of systemic therapy, radiation, and surgical procedures.
Some treatments, especially those that do not impair the immune system, may be able to continue, especially if you have only mild symptoms or none at all. Withholding treatment until COVID-19 symptoms have resolved is recommended, if possible. Universal testing of asymptomatic cancer patients may be key to ensure safe continuation of treatment and an appropriate cohorting of hospitalized patients during the pandemic. Due to the limited information of the virus thus far, it is important to consult your doctor to know your individual risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.