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Cancer patients need extra precaution during COVID-19

By NS Desk | Research | Posted on :   04-May-2020

Cancer patients are generally immune-compromised (have low immunity) and are at higher risk of contracting an infection like COVID-19.

Accordingly cancer patients should strictly observe social distancing, avoid outings as far as possible, take balanced diet and remain positive, said Dr Sudhir Rawal, Medical Director, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre (RGCIRC).

Dr Sudhir Rawal shares with IANSlife the precarious position cancer patients are in and also the precautions they need to take. Adding, patients with cancer may experience more serious complications if they acquire COVID-19 since cancer treatment generally contributes to a weakened immune system. Hence it is all the more important for cancer patients and survivors to keep infections at bay.

During the lockdown, one needs to consult with treating oncologist so that any visits to the hospital that can be postponed without compromising with the cancer treatment should be postponed. For instance in case of cancer survivors, the routine surveillance visits can be easily postponed.

The doctor reiterates, "If cancer patients have symptoms associated with Covid-19, they need to consult the treating oncologist over the phone and not just turn up at the hospital without calling. Treatment of cancer can't be postponed but precautions should be taken. For instance chemotherapy and surgery needs to be postponed till the patient is cured of the infection. Even treatments such as Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) can't take place till infection is cured."

Speaking about fears of contracting Covid in the hospitals and hence avoiding treatment, Dr Rawal said, "super specialty hospitals such as RGCIRC are taking all precautions to prevent the spread of infection. Here each person is screened properly and social distancing is maintained.

Moreover it has strengthened the system of tele-consultancy under the charge of a nodal officer. An app is also being developed through which cancer patients could take consultation sitting at home".

Q. Who is immune compromised?

Rawal: The primary function of the immune system is to fight off infection. The term eimmune compromised' refers to those individuals whose immune system is considered weaker than that of the average healthy adult. Immune compromised individuals are at a higher risk of getting infections, including viral infections such as COVID-19.

Q. What leads to having a compromised immune system?

Rawal: Diseases such as cancer and diabetes, make a person immune compromised. Similarly old age and lifestyle choices such as smoking, heavy drinking, sedentary life and junk food can all contribute to a weakened immune system. In cancer patients, the risk of being immune compromised is higher during the time of active cancer treatment such as chemotherapy.

Q. What can help improve immunity and fight off infections such as Covid-19 better?

Eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, maintaining personal hygiene, frequent and proper hand washing, maintaining social distance and shunning tobacco in all forms can help one improve immunity.

Q. What precautions need to be taken by cancer patients?

Rawal: Maintaining social distance, frequent and proper hand washing, avoiding outings, keeping surfaces clean and disinfected, wearing a face mask when going out and not touching the face, eyes or nose when the hands are not thoroughly washed. These practices need to be followed by all and even more so by cancer patients and survivors who may be immune compromised. (Agency)

NS Desk

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