While we know that anyone can become infected by the coronavirus, it’s also been discovered that people with active cancer may be more susceptible due to impaired immune systems. Furthermore, cancer patients are also at higher risk of experiencing more severe symptoms, complications or death than those without cancer. Individuals with lung and hematological cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma have the highest risk.
Coronavirus and Cancer: The Secondary Consequences
Various studies around cancer patients’ risk of dying from the coronavirus have been inconsistent, mainly because COVID-19 is still a relatively new virus, so the results will require deeper and longer analysis.
However, experts agree that the increase in coronavirus-related deaths among cancer patients may have much to do with patients’ limited access to screenings, tests and treatments.
The COVID-19 epidemic has had many secondary effects beyond the disease itself, including reduced access to medical treatment for other problems. More than once during the pandemic, health care resources had to be diverted to focus on rapidly increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients.
By suspending “low-priority” treatments, the health care sector created delays in cancer screenings, diagnosis and treatments, which may have ultimately resulted in the increase in late-stage diagnoses and cancer deaths.
According to a study on delayed cancer screenings, preventive cancer screenings in the U.S. abruptly dropped 86 percent (colon) and 94 percent (breast and cervical) following the declaration of the global pandemic. And the delayed or missed screenings led to some cancer cases being diagnosed later with a poorer prognosis.
Even as the world begins to reopen and health care services become available again, the problem is that many people may still fear exposure and delay getting screenings, preventive care or medical help for their symptoms.
Living with Cancer During a Global Pandemic
Here are some recommendations for protecting yourself and others from COVID-19:
- Practice good hand-washing habits. Wash your hands with soap and water for no less than 20 seconds, mindful of scrubbing between your fingers and under your nails.
- Observe social distancing. Avoid crowded places that may be prone to the rapid spread of the virus.
- Masks are recommended but not required. If you have cancer, wearing a mask is highly recommended because it is not only a protective measure against the coronavirus but other viruses that may further weaken your immune system as well.
- Monitor your health. As the world resumes to normal, don’t delay any of your screenings, tests or appointments. Early detection leads to improved prognosis, prevention, treatment and survival. Consistent treatment is key.
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More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.