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Why Lung Cancer Patients Should Be the Priority Group for COVID-19 Prevention?

By Michael Bartlett

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.

Lung Cancer Patients May Be at Higher Risk for the More Severe Forms of COVID-19 Infection

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.

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:

  • Patients having chemotherapy, or who have received chemotherapy in the last three months
  • Patients having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for lung cancer
  • Patients having other targeted lung cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors
  • Patients having radical radiotherapy for lung cancer

Coronavirus Precautions Lung Cancer Patients and Their Families Should Take

As an advocacy organization dedicated to serving the needs of lung cancer patients, the Lung Cancer Foundation of America is periodically issuing joint statements on coronavirus and lung cancer to help patients understand what is known about the virus, and be aware of its potential impact on the vulnerable population, including those with lung cancer:

  • If you need to go to an emergency department, tell the staff that you are having cancer treatment and the date of your last treatment
  • It may be a good idea to consider switching to a virtual appointment if your cancer center provides this option
  • If you have an oncology visit due in the next couple of months, please contact your treating physician as soon as possible to discuss what's the right approach for you
  • If you are not on active treatment, then you should consider delaying in-person doctor visits
  • If you are a lung cancer patient on active treatment, you should continue to attend for your treatment unless you have been contacted to reschedule
  • A temperature above 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit is a sign of infection. If so, you need to attend the hospital as soon as possible
  • Call your hospital team if you notice any of the following symptoms and signs of infection: shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, sore throat, changes in the way that you cough or a new cough.

Some advice for families, friends, and carers of people living with lung cancer:

  • Taking social distancing measures, such as canceling public gatherings and avoid crowds
  • Stay home as much as possible
  • As well as following the general advice for reducing the risk of coronavirus infection, you should thoroughly wash your hands frequently, practicing good hygiene and avoiding contact with people who are unwell
  • Respond to symptoms immediately
  • Consult with your doctor if you show any coronavirus infection symptoms and get tested as soon as possible

Should Lung Cancer Patients Who Are Now Receiving Chemo Cancel It?

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 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.

We Offer Support to Those Affected by Lung Cancer

Long-term inhalation of asbestos dust or fibers can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with lung cancer as a result of being exposed to asbestos, then you could be entitled to financial compensation. Environmental Litigation Group has a track record of winning compensation on behalf of hundreds of clients with lung cancer.