A year and a half after the Coronavirus pandemic wrecked our collective lives, our society has been grappling with fear and insecurity. As a result, we have seen misinformation spread like wildfire, and many resorting to bizarre and incorrect methods of dealing with the virus. With this column, which will be published every Sunday, we aim to address any health or vaccine-related question our readers might have about the coronavirus pandemic.
This week’s expert is Dr Sanjeev Misra, who is the Director and CEO, and professor of oncology at AIIMS Jodhpur. In this column, Dr. Misra has answered queries related to COVID-19 and cancer.
How difficult is it to manage long-COVID symptoms for a cancer patient?
Currently, several institutions (including AIIMS Jodhpur) are running their Post-COVID clinics, where patients are taking consultations for their post covid symptoms, both acute as well as chronic. There is a protocol in place which includes their physical examination and other necessary laboratory parameters. The entire system is operated by a Multidisciplinary team. Similar things apply to cancer patients also. In case of cancer patients however, many experienced long COVID symptoms for a prolonged period or more severely. One more thing, data from different studies have revealed that a sizable number of cancer patients who had COVID-19 described their general as well as mental health as fair or poor. Health care systems and providers should be prepared to recognize and meet the ongoing needs of this patient population.
How has cancer care been affected during this pandemic?
As most of the health system faced the surge of COVID19 cases, affecting the normal health system delivery, so was the case for cancer care. But several institutions developed their protocols to provide necessary uninterrupted care to these patients. Teleconsultation was used as an opportunity for triage of patients into those who should be physically examined, and those who should benefit from additional workup before their admission physically to limit their exposure to the hospital environment and therefore to reduce their risk of contamination. Medical care with assured optimal treatment while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 transmission was the mantra during this pandemic.
Does the vaccine cause more severe side effects for cancer patients?
No. COVID-19 vaccines might not stimulate effective immune responses in some people with cancers. So they may have a type of weak response or sometimes be non-responders. But as far as the probability of having severe adverse events are concerned, they are similar to any other individual.
Is COVID always more severe in cancer patients?
No. During the initial phases of the pandemic, some studies pointed out that it is associated with higher mortality in cancer patients, but subsequently many studies revealed the opposite. Therefore, it is not necessarily true that COVID is always more severe in cancer patients.
Does Chemotherapy interfere with COVID medication?
Once the patient is found to be positive for COVID, generally chemotherapy is withheld for 2-3 weeks. After recovery from the COVID, chemotherapy can be resumed safely without prolonged effect on cancer treatment.
Can COVID cause more damage to organs affected by cancer?
Further long-term studies in cancer patients who have recovered from COVID will probably answer this question. It may be too early to say anything concretely on this.