September 09, 2020
Because patients who are undergoing or have recently undergone cancer treatment tend to be immunocompromised, they can have a higher risk of contracting viruses like COVID-19 and might also have a more difficult time fighting the virus if they have it.
That’s why it’s especially important for these individuals to know when to quarantine and how to do it properly.
According to Dr. Jason Meier, a hematologist and oncologist at the CRMC Cancer Center, there are three categories of patients who need to take precautions:
• Those who no longer have cancer or have cancer that is in remission. These patients need to be careful because they often have other medical problems like diabetes or high blood pressure that, when combined with cancer, can put them at increased risk.
• Those who are currently receiving either chemotherapy or radiation. These patients potentially have a compromised immune system or increased inflammation that can make their response to COVID-19 stronger and more likely to result in hospitalization or an ICU stay.
• Those who have metastatic disease and are being treated with other agents in addition to chemotherapy and/or radiation. Patients who are on either neoadjuvant or adjuvant therapies are receiving chemotherapies that can reduce their immune system, which can present additional challenges in relation to COVID-19. This especially applies to lymphoma and leukemia patients and some lung and breast cancer patients.
While patients in the third category need to remain at home if at all possible to protect themselves, Dr. Meier says that patients in the first two categories can venture out in public as long as they are very careful to follow CDC guidelines for wearing masks, social distancing and wiping down shared surfaces.
“Because it’s very difficult in certain situations like church to maintain those CDC guidelines, I tell my patients that if the places they go are not able to follow those guidelines, it’s safest if they avoid those situations for right now,” said Dr. Meier.
He also recommends that these patients avoid places like prisons and nursing homes, where there is a dense population in one area, as disease tends to be more prevalent and spread more quickly there.
“We are also recommending against a lot of extended contact with people who you don’t see that often,” said Dr. Meier. “We want to do what I think of as ‘maintain our bubbles.’ If you have a group of five or six people that you’re seeing every day, and you know that they’re not sick, those are usually going to be fairly safe. But anyone with a fever, anyone with a cough — you want to keep them away for right now.”
He says that walking outside and grocery shopping are probably safe as long as patients wear a mask and thoroughly wash their hands when they return home. Coming to Cookeville Regional for follow-up and preventive visits is also safe, because the hospital is following CDC guidelines very carefully.
Finally, Dr. Meier advises extra care in food preparation for cancer patients.
“You should always rinse any fresh fruits or vegetables and make sure your meat is cooked thoroughly,” he said. “If you give things like canned goods or bags a gentle wipe, it’s probably not going to hurt anything, but most of those items are going to be fine without being cleaned.”