Cancer treatment during a pandemic: How to stay safe

Preparing for cancer treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic requires some extra effort to protect against infection.

If you're about to begin cancer treatment, know that it's common to feel some apprehension. You might be worried about side effects and how your treatment might interfere with your daily activities. But undergoing cancer treatment during a pandemic brings some additional worries, as you must also consider the risks related to the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

When you're facing uncertainty, it may help to focus on preparation. It's a good way to channel your efforts so you don't waste energy on worrying. Here's a look at how you and your doctor can work together to make cancer treatment safer and protect you from the virus that causes COVID-19 .

Ask your doctor about precautions at the clinic or hospital

You might feel more comfortable about going to the clinic or hospital for procedures and appointments if you understand the measures being taken to protect against the virus that causes COVID-19. Knowing what to expect can make you feel more prepared.

Common ways clinics and hospitals are making cancer treatment safer include:

  • Virtual appointments rather than in-person visits. Whenever possible, your doctor may talk with you over the phone or through a video-based application on your phone or computer. Plan ahead by following the instructions for downloading the needed application. Find a quiet place to be during your virtual appointment so you and your doctor can hear each other clearly.
  • Screening for COVID-19 symptoms. Your doctor's office may contact you a few days before a scheduled appointment to ask about any symptoms. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, such as shortness of breath or fever, your appointment may be delayed until you undergo testing.
  • Testing for the virus that causes COVID-19. Your doctor might recommend that you undergo testing for infection before certain treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy, even if you don't have symptoms.
  • Precautions for in-person appointments. You may be required to wear a mask when you visit your doctor in person. At the entrance to the clinic or hospital, you may have your temperature checked and be asked about your symptoms. Ask your doctor what you can expect and how much extra time to allow. If you don't have your own mask, ask if one will be provided. If you need help getting to your appointment, tell your doctor and ask if it's OK to bring someone with you.
  • Revising cancer treatment plans for safety. Your doctor carefully weighs the risks of your cancer against the risks associated with the virus that causes COVID-19 in order to choose the cancer treatment that's best for you. Changes to your treatment might be necessary to limit the number of in-person appointments or invasive procedures you'll need in order to reduce your risk of COVID-19.

    For instance, chemotherapy, hormone therapy or other treatments might be your initial treatment if surgery needs to be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For some cancers it may be possible to alter chemotherapy or radiation therapy schedules so that you need fewer treatment sessions. Some chemotherapy drugs can be taken in pill form so that you won't need to have infusions. For certain slow-growing cancers, treatment can safely be delayed for weeks or months.

Take steps to stay healthy

Another way to prepare for cancer treatment is to do what you can to keep yourself healthy. Try to:

  • Protect yourself from the virus that causes COVID-19. If you develop COVID-19 during cancer treatment, your treatment may be stopped or paused. To avoid this, follow the advice of your doctor and local health officials to reduce your risk of contracting the virus that causes COVID-19. Stay home as much as possible, wear a cloth face covering when you must go out, and wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Arrange for help. Ask friends and family for help or arrange for services, such as grocery and pharmacy delivery, so that you can stay home as much as possible during cancer treatment.
  • Have a clear plan for contacting your health care team. Understand when and how to contact your health care providers when you have questions. If you're worried about the virus that causes COVID-19, you may be reluctant to go to the emergency room if you have worrying symptoms. Ask your doctor which symptoms signal an emergency so you'll know when it's necessary to seek help.
  • Work to stay healthy before and during cancer treatment. Make healthy choices in order to keep your body strong enough for cancer treatment. Get enough sleep so that you wake feeling rested. Choose a healthy diet that's full of fruits and vegetables. Aim to get some exercise most days of the week. Find healthy ways to reduce stress. Beginning treatment feeling healthy may make it easier to cope with treatment side effects.
July 21, 2020 See more In-depth

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