As the novel coronavirus outbreak begins impacting many facets of cancer care in the United States, it’s easy to have possibly missed some of the news surrounding COVID-19 and cancer. Here are four things that our readers may have missed.
Across the world, there are 856,918 known cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) that has led to a global pandemic. Currently, the United States has 186,101 known cases of the coronavirus, according to the CDC, which makes it the new epicenter for the pandemic.
These numbers are increasing exponentially and as more people become sick with the virus and hospitals deal with the overflow, patients with cancer are forced to once again deal with a new normal that continues to change by the day. In doing so, it’s easy to miss some of the latest insight from experts that are showing how the pandemic is affecting patients with cancer, and what they need to do to prepare.
Here are four things you may have missed when it comes to COVID-19’s impact on cancer care.
1) Managing Stress
“Fear is a natural human emotion. We all have fear during this pandemic, yet the higher risk for health complications from COVID-19 may heighten the stress faced by individuals with cancer,” Dr. Shelley Johns said in an interview with CURE®.
CURE® had the chance to interview Dr. Johns, a researcher and board-certified clinical health psychologist with the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center, on how to identify feelings of anxiety and cope with them as pandemic fears and social distancing take their toll on an at-risk population.
2) Utilizing Telemedicine
With the relaxing of HIPPA rules, more and more providers are looking to reach isolated patients through telemedicine in order to still conduct important discussions with patients, but also to help patients mitigate their chances of contact with the novel coronavirus.
As more clinics are placing restrictions on when patients can come in for visits and treatments, telemedicine offers patients the opportunity to address their concerns and keep up with treatments where possible. It can potentially even increase the number of patients seen.
“This is telemedicine’s heyday,” Dr. Judd Hollander, associate dean for strategic health initiatives at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University said in an interview with CURE®. “It’s almost what it was built for.” Citing that they were able to see more patients than their usual average when the majority had to travel for visits. Suggesting a more efficient new normal could come from this.
3) Navigating the Changes
“We are encouraging patients to push off ‘routine’ follow up appointments,” Dr. Harold Burstein, a senior physician at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said in an interview with CURE®. “We have stopped performing screening mammograms in asymptomatic patients. We expect that there will be staffing challenges in the weeks and months ahead and are planning for that.”
These challenges are going to, and have already, drastically change the direction of patient’s cancer journeys. While many clinics have looked to prepare and adapt, not all clinics will have the same reaction to the virus, for better or worse. Which is why it’s important to understand the guidelines that have been put forth by agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and to hear how clinicians are responding to them in order to navigate through your own clinic’s changes.
4) Understanding Coronavirus’ Impact
While patients with cancer are understood to be at high risk for being susceptible to COVID-19, the wider effects on the virus’ impact on patients with cancer is still under investigation.
In a new study out of China, researchers set out to determine how vulnerable patients with cancer are to COVID-19 and its ties to receiving anti-cancer treatments that can suppress the bodies’ immune system and weaken patients.
“It was found that within 14 days, anti-tumor therapies were significantly associated with occurrence of severe clinical events in COVID-19 infection,” the researchers wrote looking at patients with cancer who tested positive for the virus. They also mentioned that these patients probably contracted the disease going to hospitals that were treating patients with COVID-19, making the case for cancer clinics to be extra cautious when bringing in patients with cancer.