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Posted on March 17th, 2020
Because their immune system is already compromised, lung cancer patients are especially vulnerable to any infections, especially for the lower respiratory tract. Nowadays, many of you who have been affected by lung cancer might be wondering if special precautions need to be taken with the coronavirus pandemic unfolding.
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new coronavirus that can affect your lungs and airways. When the virus reaches the lungs, their mucous membranes become inflamed, damaging the alveoli or lung sacs which have to work harder to carry out their function of supplying oxygen to the blood and send carbon dioxide out. People with an impaired immune system, including due to cancer treatment, are at higher risk of failure of the respiratory system due to coronavirus.
Lung cancer patients going through cycles of treatments over a number of months may be at greater risk of developing more severe complications from coronavirus. Although they are still learning more, scientists know that lung cancer patients have an increased chance of developing a serious adverse event due to the coronavirus - intensive care admission, treatment with oxygen or intubation, mechanical ventilation, and higher mortality rate.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. More than 90 Americans have died due to the virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said people with lung disorders are at a higher risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19 infection. Lung cancer is a complex disease that starts in the lungs and affects any part of the respiratory system.
Doctors believe smoking causes lung cancer by damaging the cells that line the lungs, but lung cancer also occurs due to exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos, in occupational settings. Asbestos-related lung cancer occurs when asbestos fibers cause enough irritation, inflammation, and genetic damage. Industrial workers, construction workers, mechanics, and veterans are among those most at risk due to their increased likelihood of prolonged occupational exposure. Even if you worked with or around asbestos decades ago, exposure to this carcinogen could be the cause of your current lung cancer diagnosis.
When your doctor determines whether your lung cancer was caused by asbestos exposure, he/she will take into consideration the following:
Some active treatments for lung cancer, particularly chemotherapy and radiotherapy, can reduce the effectiveness of the immune system during therapy and for a time afterward normally lasting a number of months. More precisely, during your cancer treatment, your body will not be able to fight infection like it used to. An infection during cancer treatment can be life-threatening and requires urgent medical attention.
Some people with lung cancer are more at risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the COVID-19 infection, including:
Hospitals continue to function and deliver quality cancer treatment and have introduced a number of additional measures aimed at reducing the risks of coronavirus infection. For non-small cell lung cancer patients, oncologists may recommend chemotherapy in order to shrink fast-growing tumors.
However, each case will need to be individualized and discussed with their physician. Chemotherapy may also be given as a palliative treatment where the intent is to reduce symptoms and improve comfort. Lung cancer patients who are getting a routine follow-up in primary care may want to delay their visit or schedule a virtual consultation with their doctor, if available. However, if you are receiving cancer treatment that suppresses your immune system and you contracted a coronavirus infection, call your oncologist or a member of your treatment team.