A number of cities and states have begun relaxing social distancing and stay-home policies related to COVID-19. Most encourage at-risk individuals to continue sheltering-in-place for now. As the restrictions have eased, many people have taken this opportunity to get back out into the world. But pleural mesothelioma and other lung cancer patients have several reasons to continue staying safe at home.
1: Cancer Patients May Have a Higher Risk of Contracting COVID-19
Cancer patients, including those with pleural mesothelioma, often have a suppressed immune system. Cancer itself, treatments and treatment-related side effects can all contribute to immune suppression. As a result, physicians initially speculated cancer patients may have a higher than average risk of COVID-19 infection.
A recent study in The Lancet provided scientific corroboration of this risk. Researchers analyzed more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases in China. They found a higher infection rate among cancer patients than the general population. The authors concluded cancer patients “might have a higher risk of COVID-19.” The publication urged physicians to pay closer attention to cancer patients.
Further complicating matters, coronavirus may share symptoms with certain cancers.
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste or smell
- Rare: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Pleural mesothelioma and other cancer patients may face elevated risk of COVID-19 infection. This may motivate them to continue staying home as much as possible and social distancing when leaving the house.
2: Cancer Patients With COVID-19 Face More Risks Than Those Without Cancer
In The Lancet study, researchers tracked how quickly severe health events occurred in patients. The researchers defined severe events as ICU admission, invasive ventilation or death. Patients without cancer had about 43 days before a severe event. Cancer patients had only about 13 days before experiencing a severe event.
The study’s authors recommended increased hospital surveillance for COVID-19 patients with cancer. They suggested this tactic as a way to catch cases of rapid deterioration as early as possible.
When to Seek Emergency Care for Coronavirus
The CDC recommends seeking emergency medical care immediately if a person experiences:
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent chest pain or pressure
- New onset confusion
- Inability to stay awake or wake up
- Blue-tinted lips or face
A more recent study out of Italy analyzed 200 lung cancer patients with COVID-19 infection. They found an alarmingly high mortality rate of 34.6% among this group. For comparison, only 6% of known COVID-19 cases in the general population result in fatality in the United States.
76% of patients in the Italian study were hospitalized. But more than 90% of hospitalized patients were never admitted to the ICU due to “shortage of equipment or institutional policy.” As such, lack of access to intensive care facilities may have contributed to the high mortality rate in this group.
Hospital policies vary across the United States. It is currently unclear whether American lung cancer patients would face the same limited access to intensive care. Regardless, the potential for rapid progression and high mortality rate provide motivation for lung cancer patients to stay home as much as possible.
3: Many Cancer Care Providers Have Substantially Transitioned to Telehealth
Oncologists and treatment centers nationwide have made sweeping changes to cancer care protocols. These changes are intended to limit COVID-19 infection risk for immunocompromised cancer patients. Dr. Gary Lyman of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center says they want patients to “avoid COVID-19 infection if at all possible.”
Coronavirus-Related Changes to Cancer Care
- Noncritical surgeries and procedures have been rescheduled.
- Infused medications have been switched to pills where possible.
- Checkups, some for clinical trials, are transitioning to telehealth visits.
- Patients must undergo COVID-19 screening prior to entering a healthcare facility.
- Most facilities now require face-covering masks.
In short, physicians and healthcare providers are doing everything in their power to keep cancer patients safe. At the same time, they are trying to provide vital cancer treatment to patients who need it. Through these efforts, the oncology community is sending a clear message to patients: do not take unnecessary risks.
Pleural Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer Patients Can Help Decrease COVID-19 Risks
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid exposure altogether. It may be impossible to avoid all exposure, but cancer patients can take steps to decrease risk.
How Cancer Patients Can Decrease COVID-19 Risk
- Stay home as much as possible.
- Avoid non-essential interactions with others.
- When you must leave home, keep at least six feet away from other people.
- Wear a cloth mask that covers your nose and mouth when outside of the home.
- Speak to your doctor about other ways to minimize your risk of contracting COVID-19.
For more information on COVID-19 and lung cancer treatment, select any of the links below.