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Cancer patients ‘much more susceptible to COVID’
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LPN Holli Morrison takes a blood pressure reading Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, at The Longstreet Cancer Center. Some cancer patients are more susceptible to COVID because their immune system can be weakened by the cancer and its treatments. - photo by Scott Rogers

As community members take precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, cancer patients should take extra precautions to avoid contracting the virus, according to health care professionals. 

“Patients who have cancer, they already have dysfunctional immune systems, because that’s what led to the cancer to begin with. When we are giving them treatment for their cancer, we are suppressing the system even further,” Dr. Anup Lahiry, an oncologist and hematologist with the Longstreet Clinic, said. “That definitely makes them much more susceptible to COVID and COVID-like illnesses, or any kind of secondary infection, whether it be a viral infection, stomach infection or bacterial infections.” 

Lahiry said cancer patients are also more likely to have other health issues that would make them more susceptible to COVID-19. 

“They usually are elderly patients, they have diabetes, they have high blood pressure, they may have (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or emphysema,” he said. “That will make them more susceptible to COVID infection or COVID related morbidity or health issues.” 

According to the American Cancer Society, “for many people being treated for cancer, especially with treatments like chemotherapy or stem cell (bone marrow) transplants that can weaken the immune system, doctors often recommend patients wear a mask to help lower exposure to germs that might cause infections.”  

Lahiry said he also recommends that his patients take extra precautions to reduce their possibility of getting COVID-19. Cancer patients should avoid indoor gathering spaces like restaurants and churches if possible, he said. 

“If they have to go to places that cannot be avoided inside, wear a mask for sure, wash hands as much as possible whenever they get in contact with something and certainly avoid people who have been sick and who have been coughing,” Lahiry said. 

Cancer patients should also wear a mask and distance from family members they don’t already live with, Lahiry said. 

Lahiry said more cancer patients are checking in with their doctors over videoconference to limit their contact with others. 

“We are trying not to bring them to the office for a lot of follow-ups,” he said. “… Of course, if the patient needs chemotherapy or has some serious issues or problems, we need to see them in the office, but if we can avoid doing that, we could do it with videoconference.”  

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