Cancer and Covid-19 Infection
Is Covid-19 or Novel Coronavirus more common in cancer patients?
Based on studies in China, Italy and Spain, there is an increased risk of getting covid-19 if you are a patient with cancer. Overall, about 1-4% of cancer patients can have covid-19 as compared to less than 1% in the general population. This can be variable depending on the geographical location of the patient and local factors such as safety measures undertaken by the patients and hospitals.
What are the symptoms of Covid-19 in cancer patients?
The symptoms of covid-19 in cancer patients are similar to those of non-cancer patients and these include fever, chills, dry cough, sore throat, headaches, muscle and body aches, breathlessness, and loss of smell and taste.
Factors which increase the risk of severe covid-19 include older people, those people with other associated diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, cancer, obesity. A combination of these can add to the risk.
When should cancer patients be tested for Covid-19?
Any cancer patient who has the above-mentioned symptoms should be tested for covid-19 infection. At the same time, they should be assessed whether the symptoms are occurring due to the cancer itself. Some doctors may wish to test all cancer patients admitted to hospital for an operation or starting a treatment that may suppress the immune system.
What types of cancers have a higher risk with Covid-19?
The risk of a severe illness with covid-19 is increased with certain types of cancer such as lung cancer and blood cancers. The most important risks are older age and having other medical conditions as discussed above.
Is having chemotherapy or other therapy dangerous with Covid-19?
The risk of serious side effects from chemotherapy or other therapy for cancer when given within 4 weeks of a covid-19 infection, are not increased. Therefore, doctors make decisions regarding these treatments on the merits of them in controlling cancer and balance it against the risk.
What precautions should a cancer patient take to minimise risk of getting Covid-19 infection?
The precautions to be taken are the same as for anybody else and include frequent hand washing and hand hygiene, wearing of face mask or covering, maintaining social distancing and avoiding large crowds.
How is treatment different for a cancer patient who has Covid-19 infection?
Generally, the treatment options will be similar in cancer patients with covid-19 as compared to those without cancer. However, patients who are on treatments which suppress the immune system such as chemotherapy or other therapies should be stopped until all covid-19 symptoms have settled.
When can cancer treatment be restarted after covid-19 infection?
Most guidelines recommend that treatment can be restarted if at least 24 hours have passed after resolution of fever and the patient is not on any medications to control the fever. Also, if other symptoms such as cough etc are present, they should be reducing. If a patient did not have any symptoms but was found to be covid-19 positive, treatment can be started 20 days after the positive test. Cancer treatments are different from each other and the risks and benefits of the proposed treatment will be assessed by the doctor.
I think I may have cancer, but I am afraid to go to a hospital for tests. Can I delay for some time?
If you think you have cancer, it is best to get tests done and not delay at all. If going to the hospital is risky, an online consultation with a doctor can give you more information about your concerns and then a decision can be made about what tests to be done. Delaying diagnosis and treatment for a cancer will give time for cancer to continue to grow and spread.