Cancer and COVID-19 – What Patients Need to Know
Fear of a possible coronavirus infection should not delay or even hinder vital, immediate, and high-quality cancer treatment. We talked with the oncologist, PD Dr. Peter Reichardt, Chief Physician for Oncology and Palliative Medicine, Helios Hospital Buch, on a new nationwide study he authored.
"No cancer patient, regardless of age, should wait any longer for their diagnosis or treatment,"
PD professor Dr. Peter Reinhardt, Chief Physician for Oncology and Palliative Medicine, Helios Hospital Buch.
Does the lockdown imposed due to the coronavirus affect the treatment of cancer?
A study by Helios Concern showed that during the lockdown in the spring and early summer of 2020, the number of diagnosed cases of cancer decreased for almost all types of cancer. In particular, patients over 75 years old received an average of 20 percent fewer therapeutic interventions. This is of particular concern since we must proceed from the assumption that the examination and treatment that is not started in a timely manner will lead to serious complications and harm to the health of patients. In particular, if cancer is detected, it is imperative to start appropriate therapy as early as possible in order to maintain the highest possible chance of survival.
What are the known causes?
The exact reasons behind what is happening have yet to be analyzed based on further research. It is likely that many patients avoided going to the doctor for fear of contracting the coronavirus. This could also have resulted from temporary lockdowns or limited opening hours of health facilities. Further studies are pending to determine the possible health consequences of later diagnosis of the disease and initiation of therapy.
Are patients with blood diseases and cancer more susceptible and at risk of contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus?
Not automatically. It depends on the type of disease and the therapy being administered. The specific individual risk depends on many factors. In fact, general safety recommendations apply to cancer patients in the same way as to anyone else during the coronavirus pandemic. We, oncologists, inform patients at a particularly increased risk about special measures. The current recommendations of the German Society for Hematology and Medical Oncology (DGHO) show how differentiated the approach to cancer patients should be. Continuous professional development is mandatory for all doctors and medical staff. But now the exchange of experience at the national and international level is especially important.
Are there specific recommendations for dealing with the SARS-CoV-2 virus for cancer patients and doctors and medical personnel in oncology departments?
The recommendations of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) apply to medical practices and hospitals, and we adhere to them religiously. Like many other patients, patients with blood diseases and cancer belong to a special risk group for infections. The most important measures against the virus are hygienic hand disinfection, social distancing, and limited social contacts. We recommend that special care be exercised in patients receiving special therapy, including at home. This applies to the entire stage of treatment, from diagnosis, all forms of therapy to rehabilitation and subsequent dispensary follow-up of cancer patients.
What is your conclusion?
No cancer patient, regardless of age, should wait for any for their diagnosis or treatment. Each and every patient must be guaranteed a complete diagnostic and therapeutic course. This applies equally to inpatient and outpatient care. Non-urgent, routine therapeutic interventions can be postponed – the professional term for this is "as scheduled". But methods of treating cancer are not one of those! They always require immediate action in order to increase the chances of survival.