How about delaying my cancer treatment for a while, until this pandemic subsides?” – This is a common thought that has crossed the mind of every single cancer patient during this time.

Delaying treatment for gynecological cancers comes with its own set of risks; on the other hand, visiting the hospitals frequently to continue with the cancer treatment might increase the risk of COVID-19 infection.

A study that was conducted in China has reported that the risk of cancer patients developing serious illness due to the novel coronavirus contraction is relatively higher than that of normal healthy individuals.[1]

Those undergoing cancer treatment are classified under the “vulnerable category” due to their suppressed immunity. Treatment modalities like chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery weaken the body’s ability to fight against infections, such as a viral infection in this case.

So, should the cancer patients be continuing or postponing their treatment during this pandemic?

The Risks Of Delayed Cancer Treatment:

According to the oncologists, many cancer patients are skipping their cancer treatments fearing the COVID-19 infection, and this is decreasing the chances of successful cancer management among them. A few doctors have also stated that more than the helplessness due to the lock-down imposed, it is the fear among the patients that is stopping them from reaching for the care they need.

Delaying the treatment for gynecological cancers without consulting the specialist may not be a great idea. It may lead to stage progression and metastasis, which is one of the biggest risks. Cancer that has spread to other organs is difficult to treat and is usually associated with a poor clinical outcome. Along with this, delayed cancer treatment could also lead to poor response to further treatment, increased risk of post-treatment relapses, and poor survival rate in a few cases.

Importance of Getting Timely Cancer Treatment

Gynecological cancers are complex; early diagnosis and timely treatment are the keys to tackle them effectively. Timely cancer treatment promises higher chances of cure or remission. It also helps in preventing cancer from spreading to other organs and improving the chances of survival. The medical adherence achieved through timely cancer treatment positively impacts the clinical outcome.

When the cancer treatment is given on time, it positively impacts the patient’s confidence, which in turn helps in faster recovery.

Always Consult A Doctor, Who Knows the Best

In the current scenario, oncologists are prioritizing both the health and safety of cancer patients. It is very much given that cancer treatments are not elective. However, in few cases, doctors can decide on postponing the treatment after critically assessing several factors such as the stage of cancer, type of the treatment suggested, risk of recurrence, and the overall condition of the patient. In any case, a doctor will be the best person to take a call on any treatment. Therefore patients, who are unsure of continuing the treatment must always consult their specialists, as this helps them get a better understanding of their condition, the pros, and cons of delaying the treatment and eventually make a sound decision.

Advances in the field of cancer care have helped oncologists precisely design customized cancer treatment plans for each cancer case. From the past few months, gynae oncologists are recommending patients to switch from intravenous chemotherapy to oral chemotherapy and hypo-fractionated radiotherapy in the place of conventional radiotherapy in order to reduce hospital visits for the patients. Specialists have embraced telemedicine to share the diagnoses with patients, support follow-up care, and second opinion cases, and thereby a fair share of cancer care is delivered to the patients at the comfort of their home.[2]

Measures that Cancer Patients Can Take During the Pandemic

There is no denying of the fact that cancer patients are more likely to have a serious illness due to COVID-19 infection. However, with a few stringent preventive measures, gynecological cancer patients can continue with their treatment whilst protecting themselves against the COVID-19 infection.

  1. Avoid Public Gatherings

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Cancer patients must avoid public gatherings, social events, or the places that’ll have more people than usual, such as malls, restaurants, etc., especially those in poorly ventilated areas. If it is absolutely essential, patients should always wear a mask and avoid interactions with those exhibiting the possible symptoms of COVID-19 infection and those who are in close proximity to people showing the infection symptoms.

Cancer patients should opt for private vehicles or a taxi while visiting the hospitals for treatment and avoid public transports like buses, which are usually crowded.

  1. Always Maintaining Social Distance In and Outside Home

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Practicing social distancing is crucial for cancer patients, especially those who are currently undergoing surgery, chemotherapy,and radiotherapy, which lead to suppressed immunity. Maintaining 6-feet distance while interacting with people both inside and outside the home is found to curb the infection risk for cancer patients by a larger degree.

  1. Using Mask Whenever Necessary

Cancer patients should mandatorily wear masks whenever they are outside the home and during their interactions with other people. Since the respiratory droplets from the affected individuals are found to be one of the primary sources of transmission, usage of masks helps in scaling down the infection risks remarkably.

  1. Frequent Hand Sanitisation

Frequent hand washing or sanitization is proven to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection among people. Washing the hands for 20 seconds with soap can prevent the virus from spreading to a greater degree. 

  1. Regular Disinfection of the Living Environment

As the quote goes, “A home is only as clean as its least adherent person”. Apart from following the infection control measures themselves, cancer patients and their caregivers must ensure that every person in the home is following those measures and are keeping their immediate environment clean. It is safe to frequently disinfect the objects that are used the most and by many in the home, like the doorknobs, electric switches, water faucets, remote controls, etc.

 Bottom Note: Practice Prevention and Continue the Battle against Cancer Seamlessly

Since there is no vaccine or medication invented for the novel coronavirus yet, practicing prevention is the only way to protect oneself against the infection. It is important for cancer patients and their caregivers to know that cancer will not wait for COVID-19 and neither should they. With the above-mentioned preventive measures and a little bit of confidence, cancer patients can continue with the treatment seamlessly, even during the pandemic.

[1] https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanonc/PIIS1470-2045(20)30096-6.pdf

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3119205/