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Protecting cancer patients amid coronavirus: How to safely offer support

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People with underlying health conditions or compromised immune systems are considered to be most at-risk for complications due to the novel coronavirus, so where does that leave cancer patients?

Chemotherapy and other types of cancer treatments can weaken the immune system, which may increase the risk of infection, according to the National Cancer Institute. Patients have been advised to consult with their health care provider about upcoming appointments as treatment schedules may be altered in order to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

“Some cancer treatment can be safely delayed, while others cannot,” according to the National Cancer Institute. “Some routine follow-up visits may be safely delayed or conducted through telemedicine. If you take oral cancer drugs, you may be able to have prescribed treatments sent directly to you, so you don’t have to go to a pharmacy.”

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Other patients may be directed to go to a specific clinic located at a facility that is not treating COVID-19 patients, but with the situation continuing to rapidly evolve, there are additional precautions you can take on a personal level to help keep loved ones protected. Those steps include choosing a healthy individual to drive patients to and from treatment if they are unable to do so themselves and continuing with safe hygiene practices.

“Good hygiene is the number one precaution every person can take to protect themselves from COVID-19 and other viral infections,” Dr. David Cohn, chief medical officer and a gynecologic oncologist with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, told Fox News. “Cancer patients and anyone transporting a patient to/from medical appointments should also wear a face-covering when outside the home as an extra precaution.”

Cohn added that a healthy individual who lives in the home with the patient is the ideal person to transport them back and forth to, but that option is not available, any other driver should have their temperature checked and be free of flu cold or flu symptoms.

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“Cancer patients are a very unique population who are at higher risk for developing COVID-19 as well as at higher risk for complications from COVID-19,” Cohn said. “Because of this, it is especially important to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 [for cancer patients]. Our health care workers, the patient, and their families are all partners in this effort to minimize risk. For cancer patients who are immunocompromised due to treatment, they should control their environment and be meticulous about handwashing and maintaining distance from other individuals to limit exposures.”

However, Cohn acknowledged that life “cannot be lived in a bubble,” but encouraged each individual to “take common-sense actions to protect themselves, based on their unique situation.”

Cohn also added that it’s vital for patients to maintain social connections while adhering to social distancing rules. That may mean having supporters wait outside the windows of treatment centers.

“The mental and emotional strain of isolation is very real,” he said. “Strong social and emotional support systems are so important [for] anyone facing adversity – this is especially true in cancer. We encourage everyone during this time to think of this as a time of physical distancing versus social distancing. While interaction from afar or through technology is certainly not the same as physical companionship and presence, it is critical to slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect our patients’ health.”

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Cohn also suggested friends and family find other ways to help that don’t involve physical presence, like dropping off meals or groceries or sending books, magazines or puzzles that can help pass the time spent at treatment. Cohn said to call frequently to check-in and talk about things that are not related to COVID-19 or cancer.

“Anything you can do to make your friend or family member feel supported is beneficial,” he said.



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