Cancer doesn’t wait for COVID-19

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By Jeffrey Metts, MD, MPH
Chief of Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Atlanta

The widespread outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to create enormous challenges for healthcare systems, and most of the nation will see a rise in incidence in the coming weeks. Armed with rapidly changing information, healthcare providers must attempt to continue essential care while mitigating the spread of this dangerous virus. Achieving this balance is particularly crucial for patients with cancer.

These patients often fall into categories that place them at high risk for poor outcomes from COVID-19 – older age, immune-compromised status and multiple health conditions, among others. At the same time, effective treatment of cancer requires timely diagnosis and treatment.

Our priority during this time is to not only prevent exposing cancer patients and others to potential infection, but also to ensure cancer patients do not experience a disruption in treatment when possible. Alongside a dedicated and passionate team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Atlanta, I am committed to helping our patients and caregivers navigate their care decisions during this unprecedented time.

Cancer Patients Shouldn’t Make Decisions Alone

With the COVID-19 pandemic and its ramifications quickly evolving, it is critically important that cancer patients remember they are not alone in their treatment journey. It is essential that patients, caregivers and physicians prioritize communication and collaborate to determine the right course of action.

While some treatments and procedures may be delayed or rescheduled, we will not let this pandemic prevent us from caring for patients who rely on us for lifesaving care. We recognize patient uniqueness and varying circumstances that influence treatment decisions. For example, postponing treatment for a healthy 70-year-old man with low-grade, early-stage prostate cancer is very different than for a patient with aggressive, but operable, pancreatic cancer.

My colleagues and I consider factors, from cancer type and stage to optimal sequencing of treatment modalities, as we navigate care decisions on a patient-by-patient basis. In many cases, and with good reason, cancer patients do not want to wait to treat life-threatening diseases.

How to Approach Travel for Treatment

Due to increasing restrictions across the country, patients with upcoming appointments should consult their care teams directly to discuss travel and any accommodations. Some appointments may be medically urgent, while others may be safely rescheduled or transitioned to telehealth. Patients who must travel for appointments are strongly encouraged to drive, if possible. If flying is a must, consider the following steps for protecting against the virus:

  • Wash hands and face frequently with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds
  • Try to avoid crowds at the airport
  • Don’t share food
  • Choose a window seat on the plane and try not to get up during the flight
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth
  • Bring antibacterial wipes and wipe down seating areas on the plane and airport
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water and warm beverages frequently

In addition to safe, healthy hygiene habits, individuals should continue to social distance and wear a face mask when possible.

As we combat this pandemic as one healthcare community, we are grateful to our medical colleagues who fight COVID-19 on the frontlines. And we are honored to continue serving patients who, every day, demonstrate resilience and courage in the face of cancer.

Dr. Jeffrey Metts

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Dr. Jeffrey Metts is chief of medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) Atlanta in Newnan, Ga. and leads the CTCA COVID-19 Task Force. CTCA launched cancercenter.com/together as a resource during this crisis.

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