Guidelines for Blood Cancer Patients to Stay Safe During The Latest Pandemic

Read the Guidelines for Blood Cancer Patients to Stay Safe During The Latest Pandemic

Online PR News – 02-November-2020 – Delhi –

COVID-19 has brought risk to the lives of all people around the world. With isolation and self-quarantine, people have been trying to minimize their chances of getting affected. However, the ones with a compromised immune system need to be even more vigilant in this time—especially those with a history or currently suffering from blood cancer.

Read on to learn more about the impact of COVID-19 infection in blood cancer patients and how blood cancer patients can shield themselves from this disease.

The clinical researchers at the Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust researched to inquire about the impact of COVID-19 on blood cancer patients and its outcomes. The Universities of Oxford and Birmingham carried out a similar study which was published in The Lancet Oncology. They made a comparison of adult patients with cancer enrolled in the UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project (UKCCMP) data between March 18 and May 8, and the non-COVID-19 UK cancer control population data from the UK Office for National Statistics using its 2017 data. Both studies had the same outcome. Blood cancer patients and survivors are at high risk of fatality if they contract COVID-19.

This study on the relation of blood cancer patients and COVID-19 was published in the British Journal of Haematology. The researchers examined 35 patients with blood cancer who tested positive for Coronavirus. They looked at these patients and their changes for 14 days. When the 14-day observation period ended, 60% of patients had recovered from COVID-19.

The research stated that patients with blood cancer have a higher risk of poor outcomes than patients suffering from other types of cancer. In simpler words, the fatality rate is higher for blood cancer patients. The cause has been linked to the immunosuppression in blood cancer patients. However, this news is not entirely negative. The study stated the patients who were actively seeking treatment for blood cancer and their compromised immune system, and were healthy otherwise, had higher chances of recovery.

Blood Cancer COVID Risk

Blood cancer, essentially, compromises the white blood cells of your body. Suffering from Myeloma, Leukemia, or Lymphoma means your bone marrow is abnormal. Your bone marrow produces the significant cells of your immune system, such as white blood cells. The white blood cells are responsible for fighting any form of disease or infection that may enter. Hence, these white blood cells build your immunity. When multiple myeloma compromises these white blood cells or plasma cells, your immune system weakens. When you take up treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy or bone marrow transplant, your immunity falls even further.

The study carried out by the University of Oxford and the University of Birmingham on blood cancer COVID risk singled out one factor that affected the fatality rate of blood cancer patients with COVID-19. This factor is age. "Our data indicates that patients with cancer with different tumor types have variable SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility and COVID-19 disease phenotypes, with notable increased SARS-CoV-2 susceptibility in patients with haematological cancers," the study said. They state that people with increasing age, for example, 80 and above, had a higher chance of fatality. The study by Queen Mary University of London and Barts Health NHS Trust also stated similar outcomes. All the fatalities which occurred during the observations were of patients above the age of 70.

The study on blood cancer patients and the effect of COVID-19 published in The Lancet Oncology also stated that men who have active blood cancer had higher chances of contracting the virus than females. Almost 57% of the patients in this study were male. The study discovered that patients with blood cancer had a significant chance of requiring ICU admission for ventilation, high flow of oxygen, or non-invasive ventilation. They might even have a severe or critical level of the COVID-19 virus load. Patients undergoing chemotherapy also had an increased risk of fatality due to COVID-19.

However, the study carried out by the Queen Mary University of London, and Barts Health NHS Trust discovered that the patients who died also had co-morbid conditions. Patients with hypertension, chronic kidney diseases, diabetes, were at a greater risk of fatality than otherwise healthy patients. Younger patients with few or no medical conditions other than blood cancer had a full chance of survival from COVID-19. While blood cancer patients had poorer outcomes than the rest of the population affected by COVID-19, the majority still survived.

Impact of COVID-19 infection in blood cancer patients and What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

You may be at an equal risk of contracting coronavirus as others if you have blood cancer. However, if you do contract the virus, you may have a severe to a critical load. If you fall under the following categories, you have a higher risk of fatality due to COVID-19.

  • You currently have any type of blood cancer, whether you are having treatment or not, including people on watch and wait

  • You are undergoing chemotherapy

  • You have experienced an allogeneic transplant (using donor stem cells) in the last two years

  • You have experienced an autologous transplant (using your stem cells) in the previous year

  • You have ongoing immunodeficiency after a transplant

  • You are undergoing other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors

  • You are taking immunosuppression medication after a transplant; you have GvHD,

  • You have immunotherapy or antibody treatments for cancer

If you are in remission from myeloma or chronic blood cancer, you might still have a compromised immune system. In such a case, you are at high risk. You must follow all the rules of isolation and self-quarantine. For the best advice, you should speak to your hospital. However, if you are undergoing treatment, you must consider the following steps:

  • You might want to delay any elective or new treatment such as an autologous stem cell treatment.

  • You must avoid any non-essential trips to big hospitals or non-COVID-free hospitals.

  • Avoid going to doctors whose offices are usually busy. If you need to go, make an appointment by phone and ask them for an appointment for the least busy time of the day.

  • Get yourself tested at trustworthy and local labs. You can ask them to send the reports by email, and you can email them to the doctor instead of physically showing them.

  • You can even ask for video or audio consultations.

  • Don't make frequent trips to the pharmacist. Get medications that will last you a long time at once.

  • Opt for phone or internet to ask routine questions or to get in touch with your doctor.

What Do You Do if You see Symptoms of COVID-19?

The symptoms of COVID-19 are the following:

  • A new or continuous cough, similar to the flu but stays for longer than 3-4 days

  • Continuous high-temperature

  • A loss or change in your sense of smell or taste

You must contact your doctor immediately if you have the following symptoms or if you have come in contact with a COVID-positive person recently. If you see these symptoms, you will have to self-isolate immediately. Self-isolation means that you shouldn't come in contact with any other person under any circumstances. If your symptoms persist, your doctor may advise you to take a COVID-19 test.

Coronavirus testing involves using a long cotton bud to take a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat. The reports can take a couple of hours to a couple of days.

If you test positive, your doctor will tell you how it will affect your ongoing treatment. Most hospital staff and cancer treatment centres have been working tirelessly to ensure your treatment without any hiccups. They will offer you the best advice on how to keep yourself safe while continuing your treatment. It may also happen that your cancer treatment is delayed so that the hospital can put the safety measures in place.

Seeking Support for Leukemia

It is a troubling time for everybody around the world. Coronavirus has caused immense panic and anxiety in even the healthiest of the population. We can imagine how stressful it might be for you as your risk of fatality is doubled. But you must always remember that you are not alone. While self-isolation and shielding are necessary for you, you don't have to be a hermit. You can get in touch with your friends and family for support. There are multiple support groups helping patients with cancer deal with the added anxiety due to the virus. Reach out to support groups online, by phone, or social media. Here are some resources for your mental well-being:

The Every Mind Matters website offers advice on how to look after your mental health when isolating at home.

Mind, the mental health charity, offers advice on how to make your stay at home easier and cope with anxious or stressful feelings.

You can even dial into Can-Helper – a first-of-its-kind toll-free helpline to provide support for fear, anxiety, and stress-related to cancer. Experienced counselors are available from 10 am to 6 pm on the toll-free number - 09511948920, all days of the week, and can speak in English, Hindi, and Marathi.

Stay in touch with your doctors and the hospital. Let them know about any changes you see during this time, better or worse. Doctors and cancer treatment centres will offer you the best advice on how to navigate your treatment and keep yourself safe until the pandemic is behind us.