Cancer Treatment in Corona Virus Pandemic

These are certainly difficult times – we have Corona Virus infection on one side and cancer treatment on the other.

I am speaking this out as a radiation oncologist to correct some wrong notions

There are two categories of cancer patients:-

1. Ex Patients- Patients who completed cancer treatment >6 months back- they are almost like a normal person. Their risk of acquiring Corona Virus infection or getting into some complications if they get Corona Virus infection is only a shade higher than an otherwise normal person who never had cancer.

Example Lady A is 70 years old with diabetes and heart ds; no history of cancer- say her risk of acquiring corona Virus infection or getting some complication is appox 5%

Lady B is 70 years old with diabetes and heart ds; with breast cancer treated 1 year back- say her risk of acquiring corona Virus infection or getting some complication is appox7-10%

Lady C is 70 years old with no health problems with breast cancer treated 1 year back- say her risk of acquiring corona Virus infection or getting some complication is appox5%

So, don’t have unnecessary fears in your mind.

Take universal precautions of hand hygiene, social distancing.

Please do not visit hospital for minor problems, routine tests or follow ups.

If needed do telephonic consultation with your doctors via phone. You may take appointment through max website.

2. Current Patients – Patients who are on active cancer treatment with either surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiation therapy anytime since last 3-4 months or who are currently on treatment. This group of patients have their immunity little or sometimes very low as compared to a non- cancer age and health profile matched individual. These cancer patients are more susceptible to acquire Corona Virus or any other infection. So, follow all universal hygiene precautions like hand washing, face mask, social distancing etc. even more thoroughly.

Please discuss with your oncologist regarding urgency of following cancer treatment protocol.

Remember for a patient cancer is just one type, for us oncologists, cancer has multiple types and moreover every patient and his/her health profile is different.

For us as oncologist two women with similar breast cancer are still different, they are not same. When we look at breast cancer we think of multiple factors like stage, lymph nodal involvement, ER/PR/Her2 N status, age, other health issues and so many other things.

We go through all this before coming out with treatment recommendations based on all these multiple factors.

Based on your age, general health and overall cancer disease profile, your oncologist will guide you for cancer treatment in this time of Corona Virus Pandemic.

To give you an example – Glioma is a type of brain tumour and is commonly treated by surgery and post – operative radiation therapy. But Gliomas have several types. For a certain type of gliomas your oncologist might tell you that despite of Corona epidemic, we must immediately start radiation and chemotherapy. While the same oncologist might suggest that for another glioma patient its ok to start treatment anytime between 1-3 months from surgery. So do not panic and don’t overthink/overjudge. If you are seeking these answers on Dr Google, be careful least you fail to correctly comprehend it.

Another common case scenario that I come across is that majority women with breast cancer need radiation therapy after surgery or chemotherapy. Generally, we prefer to start Radiation therapy after minimum 3 weeks gap from surgery or chemotherapy. But the range of safe time frame to start radiation therapy anytime between 3-6 weeks from last chemotherapy or surgery. Again, these are standard guidelines, its best to discuss with your oncologist with regards to specifically your case.

Similarly as a radiation oncologist, I see some patients with cancers of head and neck regions who come to me for radiation therapy. Please discuss your specific case with us to help you take correct decision regarding optimum timing of starting radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy by itself does not cause much suppression of body immunity or lowering of blood counts. Cancer itself causes a state of low immunity and increases chances of acquiring viral infections. Additionally, patients are generally required to come to hospital for several days to weeks for radiation therapy. Travelling to and back from hospital by itself increase chances of catching Corona virus infection.

No two-cancer patients or their risk of catching corona virus infection is similar, hence speak to your cancer specialist for best professional advice.

Have trust in your doctor’s recommendations. We are available to you for tele and video consultations, you may book appointment via Max Health care website.

In these tough times use everything judiciously including your phone consultation timings. We also recommend that please keep your relevant reports ready before starting tele consultation (similar to the way you carry all your reports with you when going to hospital).

Dr Vineeta Goel
Associate Director Radiation Oncology
Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, Delhi

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