Woman wears mouth-nose protection against the coronavirus

Cancer and coronavirus

Significance for patients and relatives

Even though the measures against the coronavirus have been gradually relaxed compared to the beginning of the pandemic, for many cancer patients the return to normality is not easy and is associated with uncertainty. To counter this, we have compiled answers to frequently asked questions about the coronavirus. You will also find an overview of precautions that cancer patients and their families can take to protect themselves from infection with the coronavirus.

The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19: What is it?

The novel coronavirus was first identified in December 2019. So far, there is no direct evidence of where the pandemic originated. The name is derived from the appearance of the viruses: they resemble a crown or wreath (Latin corona: wreath, crown). Since February 2020, the virus has also been called SARS-CoV-2. This refers to the disease the virus can cause: severe acute respiratory syndrome, also known as COVID-19. Unlike the closely related SARS agent, which was first identified in 2002, the novel coronavirus can be transmitted even before the first symptoms. In some people, the disease even progresses without symptoms. It therefore makes it more difficult to break chains of infection.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms are varied. There is often fever, cough, headache, aching limbs, fatigue, and scratchy throat. There may also be loss of sense of smell and taste or shortness of breath and shortness of breath. However, the disease progresses with mild symptoms in approximately 80% of cases. About 1/5 of patients who contract COVID-19 suffer complications, such as respiratory tract infections and pneumonia, diseases of the nervous and cardiovascular systems, and skin diseases. Severe courses have been observed primarily in high-risk patients. These include older people aged 50 to 60 years and older and people with certain pre-existing conditions. This is because their immune systems often do not function adequately, and thus the protective response to infections such as COVID-19 is often lacking. This protective response, or “immediate action” of the body, is fever. It is designed to prevent damage from invading pathogens. High-risk patients are thus more susceptible to infections in general and therefore also to infectio with coronavirus.

As a cancer patient, are you part of the risk group?

In addition to chronic diseases of the respiratory tract or lungs, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus or the use of immunocompromising drugs, the Federal Ministry of Health also includes cancer among the risk factors that can promote a severe course of COVID-19.

Cancer itself, but also cancer therapy, can weaken the immune system. A weakened immune system can occur in cancer patients especially in the following cases:

  • Leukemias, lymphomas with active disease.
  • low white blood cell count
  • low immunoglobulin levels
  • long-term suppression of the immune system, e.g. by cortisone
  • allogeneic stem cell transplantation and other cellular therapies

This also means that not every cancer patient necessarily has a weakened immune system. Provided the disease is well controlled and initial treatment has been successfully completed, there need not be an increased risk of coronavirus infection.

In any case, you should ask your doctor how he or she assesses your immune defenses and whether you are taking medications that may weaken your immune system.

Should I better postpone my cancer therapy because of Corona?

Professional societies recommend that affected individuals do not generally postpone planned cancer therapy. For patients who have cancer, the benefits of sensible and planned cancer therapy usually outweigh the risk of contracting corona virus5 For example, cancer patients who are on effective cancer therapy often have fewer infections than those whose disease is not controlled by cancer therapy.

If you have chronic cancer or your cancer is well controlled, you can work with your doctor to decide whether it is appropriate to delay therapy. The same is true for a follow-up appointment.

Your doctor will weigh the benefits of cancer therapy against possible side effects, taking into account your risk of developing COVID-19. Therefore, seek medical advice in any case.

How can you protect yourself as a cancer patient?

A woman who washes her hands

The novel coronavirus is transmissible from person to person by droplet and smear infection. It can also be transmitted via aerosols (droplet nuclei suspended in the air).

To protect against the virus, the centers for health education have established rules, which apply to both healthy individuals and people with cancer.

  • Keep your distance: To protect yourself and others from contracting the SARSCoV-2 coronavirus, keep a distance of at least 1.5 meters.
  • Hygiene: cough or sneeze into a tissue and dispose of it, wash your hands regularly with soap for 2030 seconds, ventilate closed rooms several times a day, and maintain good household hygiene.
  • Everyday mask: wear a mouth-nose covering to reduce spread by virus-containing droplets.

In enclosed spaces, in groups or crowds, or during conversations, the risk of infection is especially high and adherence to the rules is even more important.

If you, as a cancer patient, belong to the risk group, you should consistently observe the hygiene rules and also inform your relatives and fellow residents that this is especially important for you to protect yourself from infection.

For you as a cancer patient, the following tips can also help protect you:

  • Avoid peak shopping hours
  • Find out ahead of time if restaurants are following recommended measures and how close tables are spaced together
  • Stay only in places where guidelines and spacing rules are followed
  • Avoid crowds
  • Refrain from contact with mail carriers, delivery services, neighbors, friends and acquaintances, if possible
  • Have deliveries dropped off in front of the house/or apartment entrance8

As a cancer patient, will a healthy diet protect me against coronavirus infection?

A healthy diet alone, without following the rules, does not adequately protect against infection. However, it is important that you strengthen your immune system, not only with regard to a possible coronavirus infection.

Eat a balanced, fresh, and healthy diet. Get regular exercise. How about an at-home yoga session or a long walk in the fresh air? Even though your rehab sport or sports group may have been cancelled since the outbreak of the corona pandemic, you should not give up your exercise because of it. Regular exercise can strengthen your immune system and reduce stress. After all, stress or too little sleep can also have a negative effect on your immune system. Therefore, take special care of yourself during these times!

Is a pneumococcal vaccination useful for me as a cancer patient?

Pneumococcal vaccination protects against infection caused by pneumococcal bacteria, not COVID-19 disease. Pneumococci cause various diseases, such as middle ear infections or meningitis, and are responsible for most bacterial pneumonias.

The Standing Committee on Vaccination recommends vaccination primarily for people with immunodeficiency, seniors 60 years of age and older, and people with chronic respiratory diseases. If your immune system is weakened either as a result of illness or because you are taking certain medications, vaccination may be appropriate for you as well. Ask your doctor if he or she advises you to get this vaccination.

How can you as a family member avoid infecting cancer patients with Corona?

For you as the family member of a patient with cancer, it is even more important to follow the recommended protective measures.6

  • Reduce your social contacts to a minimum.
  • Keep the recommended minimum distance of at least 1.5 meters.
  • Follow the hygiene rules for coughing and sneezing as well as hand washing and ensure thorough household hygiene.
  • Contact a doctor or hospital immediately by phone or electronically at the first symptoms such as coughing or head and limb pain, and keep your distance from your loved one with cancer.
  • If possible, work from a home office or approach your employer about other options or use your vacation and work time accounts. This will help you minimize contact with colleagues and clients.

What strategies to combat loneliness may be useful for you as a cancer patient?

A woman leaning against a bridge and looking at a lake.

The coronavirus requires distance. But it is precisely in times of crisis that we seek the support of our family and friends. To ensure that loneliness does not have a negative impact on your health, we now present helpful strategies against boredom and loneliness.

  • Bring structure into your everyday life: Plan your day very consciously or make yourself a weekly overview with fixed times to which you can orient yourself. This can give you peace of mind and security – even during stressful times.
  • Use video calls: Using your smartphone, tablet or computer, you can see your family or friends via video calls. To do this, all you need to do is agree on a common platform. The most popular services are WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Wire, Facetime or Google Duo.
  • Recall forgotten contacts: Do you have acquaintances with whom you haven’t talked on the phone for ages? Now is the perfect time to get back in touch with them. Have a rummage through your address book.
  • Exercise regularly in the fresh air or at home: Not only can this have a positive effect on your body and mind, as described above, exercise is also a perfect hobby to pass the time.
  • Get creative: for example, visualize your desires in a goal collage or a diary. What is good for you, how do you like to spend your time? Put that on paper.
  • Take advantage of offers of help: Are you particularly affected by isolation and need support? Organizations like The Peer Support Network bring together help-seekers and neighborhood volunteers quickly and easily. Sign up to be a help-seeker and get help!

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