Coronavirus (COVID-19): What Breast Cancer Patients, Survivors and Family Members Need to Know
The World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
“A pandemic is a global outbreak of a serious new illness that requires sustained transmission throughout the world,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. This loosely-defined term does not necessarily refer to the lethality of an illness, but more so the worldwide spread.
So what are the symptoms of COVID-19, who is most at risk, and what should everyone do to protect themselves and others?
- Shortness of breath
These symptoms may appear up to 14 days after exposure. Call your doctor if you develop symptoms and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, if you have recently traveled from an area with widespread or ongoing community spread of COVID-19.
If you develop these emergency symptoms, get medical attention immediately…
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse
- Bluish lips or face
The peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet, published a study in mid-February which concluded both current and former cancer patients are at greater risk from COVID-19.
The study looked at 2,007 cases of hospitalized COVID-19 patients from 575 hospitals in China. Out of that group, they found 18 patients with a history of cancer they could track — some currently in treatment, some years out. Nearly half of those patients had a higher risk of “severe events” (defined as admission to the ICU, the need for ventilation or death).
“We found that patients with cancer might have a higher risk of COVID-19 than individuals without cancer,” the study authors wrote. “Additionally, we showed that patients with cancer had poorer outcomes from COVID-19, providing a timely reminder to physicians that more intensive attention should be paid to patients with cancer, in case of rapid deterioration.”
If you are currently in breast cancer treatment, a breast cancer survivor or thriver, live with someone who is currently in breast cancer treatment or a breast cancer survivor or thriver, or around people who are currently in breast cancer treatment or breast cancer survivors or thrivers, please follow these precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place (if soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol).
- Avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
- Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc.
- Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)
Things Everyone Should Do:
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth and close contact with people who are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw that tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
What should I do if I develop symptoms?
If you experience fever, cough, or shortness of breath, you should call your doctor. People who experience mild symptoms can usually stay home while the illness runs its course. But, if you are receiving treatment for breast cancer that may weaken your immune system, you should definitely let your doctor know.
“Anybody who’s on any treatment that can suppress the immune system should always call their doctor if they notice a fever or if they have severe cold or flu-like symptoms,” says Dr. Moore. “For someone who’s receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer, a fever is a medical emergency anyway, so that’s something for which they need to contact their medical team.”
If you do need to seek medical care for symptoms of COVID-19, Dr. Moore says it’s very important to let your healthcare provider know about your symptoms ahead of time.
“It’s important to call ahead and not just show up to a doctor’s office with symptoms,” she says. “That way the medical team can get a better sense of the severity of the symptoms, determine whether this is something that can be managed at home, something that can be seen in the clinic, or something that needs to be treated in the emergency department. In addition, calling ahead will help the healthcare team take precautions to help prevent exposure to others.”
If you do become sick, you can take the following steps to protect others:
- Stay home, unless you need medical care.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, properly dispose of tissues, and wash your hands.
- Monitor your symptoms and temperature.
- Wear a facemask only if you are sick or are caring for someone who is sick. You do not need to wear a facemask if you are not sick, because they are in short supply and are not proven to be effective for preventing infection when worn by healthy individuals.