(NBC News) It’s a Catch-22 for cancer patients and doctors around the world: Treatments for the disease can lower the body’s immune response, especially when it comes to fighting COVID-19, but foregoing or delaying treatment can have catastrophic consequences.
Shanti Stappas is starting her latest round of treatment for breast cancer.
“It was hard enough for me to come to terms with the fact that I needed to adjust my lifestyle being on chemo,” she says, “but then having to adjust my lifestyle being on chemo and social distancing to the degree that I’ve had to was something that was, it took me a while to come to terms with.”
Stappas’ doctors at Cedars Sinai weighed the benefits of treatments that can also weaken immune systems against the risks of COVID-19.
“I’m seeing in real time that we can get our cancer patients through the treatments they need with very specific precautions, and I’m very optimistic about the outcomes of our patients,” says Dr. Heather McArthur.
A recent study looking at 14 hospitals in China found cancer patients were more likely to die from the virus.
Doctors at the Levine Cancer Institute in North Carolina published a paper on how to more safely care for patients right now, including care teams on 14 day rotations and adjusting treatment plans.
One example: Giving patients oral forms of drugs to take at home, that would usually be given intravenously at a hospital.
“What you’re doing is bringing the risk of coronavirus down without losing the trajectory for cancer care,” explains Levine’s Dr. Derek Reghavan.
Stappas’ advice to other cancer patients is to not hesitate to ask questions and trust your doctor and the answers and guidance they give.
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