The novel coronavirus COVID-19 first appeared in late 2019 and has changed life for the forseeable future. While many people are quick to focus on the ways COVID-19 has impacted their abilities to shop, visit with friends and relatives or travel, the virus has made life especially difficult for people with preexisting health conditions.
Medical News Today reports that the symptoms of COVID-19 may be more severe for breast cancer patients. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that undergoing cancer treatment can weaken the immune system, further increasing a person’s vulnerability to infection. Specifically, targeted therapies, chemotherapy and radiation can weaken the immune system and compromise its ability to fight off the coronavirus. Furthermore, these treatments also may cause lung problems that can exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms, particularly among breast cancer patients whose cancer has metastasized to the lungs.
In April 2020, new guidelines for the prioritization and treatment of breast cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic were released, compiled by a group of U.S. medical organizations, including the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, the American College of Radiology and the Comprehensive Cancer Network. At hospitals where resources and staff have become limited due to COVID-19 treatment efforts, doctors have had to define which breast cancer patients need urgent care and which can have delayed or alternative treatments. These measures can help balance maintaining positive survival outcomes as well as reducing risk of exposure to the virus, according to the American Society of Breast Surgeons.
Breast cancer patients have been broken down into priority levels of A, B and C for urgency of care.
Priority A: A patient has conditions that are immediately life-threatening or require urgent treatment.
Priority B: A patient has conditions that don’t require immediate treatment, but he or she should begin treatment before the end of the pandemic.
Priority C: A patient has conditions for which treatment can be safely put on hold.
Breast cancer patients are further urged to take extra caution in their daily activities to help reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. That means always wearing a mask or another face covering when interacting with other people. This advice may be applicable even if a six-foot distance can be maintained. Wash hands frequently, especially when coming in from public places. If possible, ask a friend or family member to do your shopping or run errands for you to limit exposure to other people and crowds.
Breast cancer patients may have to discuss the possibility of altering or delaying treatment for breast cancer with their oncologists because of increased risk factors presented by COVID-19. Together, patients and doctors can work to keep breast cancer patients as healthy as possible.