Cancer and COVID-19: What You Should Know About Increased Risk
People diagnosed with cancer are at an increased risk of becoming ill with COVID-19. Learn more about why risk is higher and how to stay safe.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, one thing has been clear: People with a compromised immune system are at increased risk. And this population includes people dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
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Cancer specialist and Director of Breast Medical Oncology Halle Moore, MD, offers insights about the coronavirus and cancer, and recommendations for how you can stay safe.
A: There are three reasons cancer may raise your risk of severe COVID-19 illness:
A: A recent report published in the journal JAMA Oncology suggested that individuals who had been diagnosed with cancer within the previous year had about seven times the risk of a COVID-19 diagnosis compared to those without cancer. The highest risks were observed in those with leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma and lung cancer. Risk was further increased among African Americans with cancer – particularly those with breast, prostate and lung cancer.
A: In general, yes, but not always. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are common symptoms of COVID-19 infection and would be expected to be common in cancer patients with the infection as well. But sometimes, people with cancer may not develop the high fever due to immune-suppressing treatments. We have also learned that COVID-19 symptoms are extremely variable, even among otherwise healthy individuals.
A: They need to take the same precautions and be extra vigilant. Family members or anyone they are exposed to while isolating must also follow the precautions, which are:
A: Patients need to discuss individual treatment plans with their provider. There are instances where treatments can be modified, but in most cases, necessary treatments can be delivered safely. Doctors and cancer centers are using innovative approaches, such as:
A: Doctors will consider many factors, including the stage and type of cancer (some are slow-growing), to determine the next steps of your care. They’ll also make adjustments they feel are safe. For example, your doctor may delay surgery and instead use a non-immunosuppressive treatment, or choose an oral chemotherapy drug to limit your trips to the cancer center.
Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have. We want you to feel confident and safe in your care.
A: It is vital for people who have cancer to prioritize healthy habits, such as: