The phrase “immune-compromised” describes people who have immune systems that are weak, less robust, or impaired in comparison to an average adult in good health. The immune system’s primary function is to ward off infection. Those who have immune systems that are compromised have a higher risk of developing infections, Covid-19 being one of them. There are several reasons why an individual may be immune-compromised – such people might be dealing with health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer. They might also make poor lifestyle choices (like smoking cigarettes). Old age can weaken immunity, too.
Nevertheless, patients who have cancer could be immune-compromised based on the form of cancer, the kind of treatment received, their age, and other health factors. The risk of developing a compromised immune system is generally highest when one is undergoing cancer treatment (like chemotherapy). There isn’t any universal test to establish if someone’s immune system is compromised. However, findings like low antibody levels (immunoglobulins) and low counts of white blood cells are likely indications of a compromised immune system.
Are cancer survivors and patients at risk of developing health complications stemming from SARS-CoV-2 (a.k.a. Covid-19)?
It would appear that cancer patients (as well as those who have survived the disease) might have a higher risk of developing health complications that come about from the coronavirus. This is hardly a surprise when you realize that this particular group has compromised immune systems already. Patients who have dealt with cancer in the past were more inclined to suffer from severe complications, ones that would warrant the need for intensive unit care or breathing equipment (mechanical ventilation) to prevent death, in comparison to patients without any cancer history. Granted, this is a conclusion based on one study that involved 18 patients, so the assumption may not apply to everyone who dealt with cancer at one time or another.
If a patient received radiation therapy or chemotherapy before, are they at higher risk of developing Covid-19 and another severe illness?
Up to this point, there hasn’t been any evidence indicating that prior cancer treatments will increase the risk of contracting Covid-19 (in comparison to others exposed to it). Some evidence suggests that patients who have cancer might endure a more extreme reaction to Covid-19 if they get it. Cancer (as well as the treatment that comes with it) may contribute to a weakened immune system, which could result in a minimized capacity to keep infections at bay. Patients receiving cancer treatment are in and out of healthcare facilities a lot more often than the rest of the population. As such, exposure to such settings might lead to a greater risk of developing an infection (however, this is not absolute certainty). Patients are encouraged to talk to their designated cancer care support team and ask if nonessential clinic visits should be rescheduled, skipped, or be done either through videoconferencing or telephone. Be mindful that skipping cancer treatments due to worries about Covid-19 infection risks is a big decision, one that you should discuss with an oncologist.
Are cancer survivors encouraged to follow recommendations for the general public made by the US CDC?
They should. Health recommendations for the general public that are issued directly by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) should always be followed, and the coronavirus outbreak situation does not change this advice, even if you are a cancer survivor. Instructions like practicing social distancing, proper and frequent handwashing, staying away from large crowds, disinfecting and cleaning surfaces, and refraining from touching parts of your face are effective strategies for everyone, more so for cancer survivors and patients that might be immune-compromised. This situation is being monitored and maintained by the CDC. There isn’t any reason why extra measures (such as putting a facemask on) are necessary if you happen to be following the recommendations they’ve given already. You will be able to find guidelines issued by the CDC on their website.
If early symptoms are experienced by cancer survivors or patients (like a cough or fever), are they encouraged to get in touch with either their primary care doctor or medical oncologist?
If a patient is currently receiving cancer treatment, they are encouraged to get in touch with their oncologists and make the necessary arrangements. If they aren’t receiving active treatment, these individuals should get in touch with their primary care physician to make any appropriate arrangements.
If an individual begins cancer therapy, are they encouraged to postpone treatment because of Covid-19?
If you are thinking about delaying cancer treatment for the sake of bypassing a potential Covid-19 infection, you need to consider several things. Patients are encouraged to speak with their oncologists about potential risks of delaying treatment, as opposed to the potential advantages of minimizing their risk of infection. Some of the things to bring up include cancer treatment goals, the chances of the disease being regulated with the planned treatment, the side effects and intensity of treatment, and any supportive care available to minimize the treatment’s side effects.
As a cancer survivor, I receive ongoing imaging/tests/scans to detect possible reoccurrences. Can I continue to get these tests?
The CDC recommends that all clinic visits should be delayed if a patient can do so without health risks. This includes scheduled surveillance visits intended to detect reoccurrences of the disease. For the most part, the suggested frequency that comes with these kinds of visits is between three and six months apart—as such, expanding the period between tests might still fall under specific recommendations. However, if another symptom develops that indicates a reoccurrence of cancer, get in touch with your designated cancer care specialists rather than wait for your next scheduled visit.