Cancer treatment during COVID-19: How to move ahead safely
For many, cancer treatment is proceeding as usual during the pandemic. If you're concerned, here are some things to discuss with your doctor.
For many people diagnosed with cancer, treatment is carrying on as usual, despite the ongoing pandemic caused by the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
At the beginning of the pandemic, different cancer treatment strategies were implemented to protect hospital resources for people who were sick with COVID-19. These strategies gave medical centers time to put processes in place to protect people with cancer from the virus. Many medical centers have found safe ways to provide cancer treatment so that doctors can continue to provide the best care for people with cancer.
As you and your doctor consider your cancer treatment options, you'll need to balance the risk of contracting the virus against the risk that your cancer may spread if you alter your cancer treatment plan. Here are some ideas to help guide your conversation.
Discuss the safety of cancer treatment with your doctor
If you're concerned about the safety of undergoing cancer treatment during the pandemic, here are some things to discuss with your doctor:
- The level of virus activity in your area. Most medical centers have processes in place to make cancer treatment safe. But if infections and hospitalizations due to the virus that causes COVID-19 are reaching critical levels in your area, your doctor may recommend a different treatment strategy based on your cancer type. Ask your doctor about the level of virus activity in your area and how it might impact your treatment.
- Whether treatment is needed right away. Aggressive and quickly growing cancers may need immediate treatment. For less aggressive and slow-growing cancers, your doctor may consider adjusting your treatment options based on your cancer type. To determine if a cancer is aggressive, doctors analyze the cancer cells in a lab and use information from imaging tests. Ask your doctor for details about your particular cancer.
- Your treatment options. Many people with cancer undergo surgery as part of their treatment, but there may be other options that can be considered. In many places, safety procedures make it possible to proceed with cancer surgery as planned. In some situations, your doctor may recommend starting your treatment with chemotherapy or hormone therapy, based on your type of cancer and its aggressiveness. This treatment strategy helps control the cancer until surgery is possible.
If your doctor suggests a cancer treatment plan that you're unsure about, discuss your concerns with your doctor. As you find out more about your cancer and your particular situation, you might feel more comfortable with what your doctor is suggesting.
Prepare yourself for cancer treatment
Coping with a cancer diagnosis is challenging and it's made more difficult by stress caused by the pandemic. It might help to focus your energy on preparing for treatment. Try to:
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- Take precautions to avoid the virus that causes COVID-19. Being infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 could make you sick and delay your cancer treatment. Follow the precautions recommended by your doctor and local health officials, such as staying at home as much as possible, practicing social distancing around other people, wearing a cloth face covering in public settings and frequently washing your hands.
- Make healthy choices. Start healthy habits now so that you feel strong at the start of cancer treatment. Get enough sleep so that you wake each day feeling rested. Choose a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables. Try to exercise most days of the week. Find activities to help you reduce stress, such as deep breathing and relaxation exercises.
- Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Turn to a friend or loved one to talk about your emotions. Connect with other people with cancer through online groups. If you're feeling overwhelmed, talk with your doctor or someone else from your health care team about getting a referral to a mental health professional, such as a certified social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.
- Seek a second opinion. If you're uncomfortable with your doctor's treatment plan, you might find some peace of mind if you seek a second opinion. It may be possible to do this through a virtual or telemedicine visit rather than by seeing another doctor in person. Check with your insurance provider to make sure this type of appointment will be covered.
See more In-depth
- Printz C. When a global pandemic complicates cancer care. Cancer. 2020; doi:10.1002/cncr.33043.
- Cancer treatment and supportive care. American Society of Clinical Oncology. https://www.asco.org/asco-coronavirus-resources/care-individuals-cancer-during-covid-19/cancer-treatment-supportive-care. Accessed June 24, 2020.
- ASCO special report: A guide to cancer care delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Society of Clinical Oncology. https://www.asco.org/sites/new-www.asco.org/files/content-files/2020-ASCO-Guide-Cancer-COVID19.pdf. Accessed June 24, 2020.
- Dietz JR, et al. Recommendations for prioritization, treatment and triage of breast cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/covid-19/pdf/The_COVID-19_Pandemic_Breast_Cancer_Consortium_Recommendations.pdf. Accessed June 24, 2020.
- Management of prostate cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. https://www.nccn.org/covid-19/pdf/NCCN_PCa_COVID_guidelines.pdf. Accessed June 24, 2020.
- AskMayoExpert. COVID-19: Anxiety management. Mayo Clinic; 2020.
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- Schilsky RL. Common questions about COVID-19 and cancer: Answers for patients and survivors. Cancer.Net. https://www.cancer.net/blog/2020-06/common-questions-about-covid-19-and-cancer-answers-patients-and-survivors. Accessed June 26, 2020.