For those with cancer, pandemic poses special risks

The spread of COVID-19 is scary enough for everybody, but especially for people with underlying health conditions and suppressed immune systems, such as cancer patients.

"Data emerging from China and other areas do suggest that cancer patients may face a greater risk of mortality if infected with the virus," says Charles Ryan, professor and director of the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation  at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "This is most likely due to the immunosuppressive effects of certain, but not all, anti-cancer therapies, as well as other illnesses that frequently coexist within cancer patients."

At the U of M, the Masonic Cancer Center and its clinical partner, M Health Fairview, have strictly limited visitors and arranged for many doctor visits to take place via videoconferencing.

"The cancer specialists at the Masonic Cancer Center have developed plans for evaluating and offering specific care plans and treatments for cancer patients suspected of being infected with COVID-19," Ryan says. "In addition, we continue to monitor the cancellations and delays in elective surgeries and how this may affect cancer treatments."

U of M clinicians recommend that cancer patients and others take standard precautions like washing hands frequently, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when washing isn’t possible, and refraining from touching eyes, nose, or mouth.

Also, cancer patients and other individuals should come in for appointments that are necessary for infusions and labs, but otherwise use video or postpone the visit; call their clinic if they develop a fever or cough; and ensure they have access to necessary medication and supplies should they be obliged to stay home for long periods.  

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