Hospitals and health systems nationwide are considering the impact COVID-19 may have on the timing and delivery of care, and it is critical that we pay particular attention to the needs of our most vulnerable patients, which include people with cancer. While this continues to be a rapidly evolving situation, cancer patients require special consideration. The World Health Organization has officially declared the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, a pandemic. Now detected in more than 100 countries, this novel respiratory illness was first identified in December 2019. It likely spreads from person-to-person through respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can include cough, fever and shortness of breath.
COVID-19 cases have been confirmed throughout the United States, including North Dakota. Local, state and federal authorities and other organizations have been taking significant steps to reduce the risk for further transmission, such as closing schools and canceling large social events.
Why are cancer patients at an increased risk?
Based on what experts have seen so far, it appears that older adults, people with chronic health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely to experience serious complications from COVID-19 infection. This includes people who have been diagnosed with cancer, especially bone marrow transplant patients and those undergoing active treatment.
What are local hospitals doing to address the risks of COVID-19 among cancer patients?
Local hospitals are following system-wide guidance to limit patient and employee exposure to COVID-19. These guidelines, which are similar to other health care organizations, include expanded measures for exposure control, travel restrictions, patient and caregiver education and remote work options.
Additionally, managing a pandemic is an ongoing, global effort. As president-elect of the Association of American Cancer Institutes, I have been working closely with my colleagues from leading cancer research centers throughout North America to launch a platform for our members to share experiences and best practices for delivering cancer care to patients in a rapidly evolving situation.
What do I need to know about COVID-19 as a cancer patient?
Here are some things to keep in mind based on the cancer-specific contain and control measures:
The goal for cancer patients who are undergoing active treatment is to remain on the intended treatment schedule as close as possible. Long delays or interruptions in treatment could significantly affect outcomes for patients, so you need to balance your risks. Unless you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can keep your scheduled appointment.