Cancer requires continuous care, both in a pandemic or no-pandemic situation. Given the COVID-19 spread, cancer patients need to exercise extra caution, in consultation with their doctors. With focus on boosting immunity and retaining and a healthy lifestyle, patients can keep the infection at bay.
With India witnessing over 5,00,000 cases of novel coronavirus, the measures induced to fight its spread, have limited some patients’ access to medical care. The effect of COVID-19 may vary from patient to patient, considering the type, stage of cancer and age. Compromised immunity levels make cancer patients more susceptible to the virus. Avoiding exposure to the virus, hence, becomes critical. While following the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Health Ministry guidelines, patients should also seek personalized advice from their respective doctors.
Types of patients
Treating specialists can broadly sub-categorize cancer patients into following categories and act accordingly as per the priority.
Patients where care can be delivered remotely (Usually patients who have completed their active treatments and are on follow-ups or those on some oral drugs).
Care cannot be delivered remotely and a delay in treatment has minimal effect on the condition (patients whose cancer is in control e.g. those on maintenance therapy)
Treatment cannot be delayed at any cost (patients just diagnosed with cancer or those on active anti-cancer therapy especially those with early stage disease, where delay in treatment may compromise results).
Communication is key during this time?
The current situation has definitely enabled people to understand the potential impact of COVID-19 on their health. Hence, the best way to keep the ball rolling is for doctors to have an open communication with the patients and educate them on the symptoms of the virus and the individual’s risk factor. Thereby, guiding on how to lower the risk of infection.
To start off with, doctors can opt for a telephonic/online consultation with the patient and their family to assess their understanding of COVID-19, exchange notes and plan the way-forward in their treatment and assess the risk of missing a medical appointment depending on which type of patient category they fall under.
Any decision regarding delay of treatment should be first consulted with the doctor which would be analyzed upon, to come up with a solution, balancing both cancer treatment and preventing risk of infection.
Along with ensuring the right course of treatment, patients must focus on the mental well-being during this time and spend enough time with family members because stress just makes things worse.
Tips for cancer patients to bear in mind during their daily routine that will help lower the risk of infection
• Ensure minimal contact and maintain social distancing.
• Frequent handwashing with soap and water and follow health advisory.
• Use a mask at all times and carry a sanitizer if you are stepping out for medical interventions.
• Maintain good hygiene both at home as well as when you are outside. This is a must for the patient as well as the caregiver.
• Duly follow medication routine and have the necessary supplies to avoid delay in the required treatment.
• If you are due for treatment, consult your clinician and discuss various treatment options, if available.
• To help in detailed analysis, personalized therapy and counselling, check with your doctor if these follow-up sessions can be done via video or online consultation.
(By Dr. Meenu Walia, Director and HOD (Medical Oncology), Max Institute of Cancer Centre)