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Cancer patients are more vulnerable to death from Covid-19

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Coronavirus: ‘I can’t help but count myself lucky that l have managed to survive the covid-19.

Richard has been struggling with pancreatic cancer, and also tested positive for COVID-19, but has since managed to recover from the virus. He told Euronews about his recovery.

As the covid-19 continues to spread throughout the globe, it can not be stressed enough how important it is to stay at home as much as you can in order to minimize exposure , particularly those who have immune weakening conditions, such as cancer, as they are very prone to infectious diseases such as Covid-19.

According to a new study by physician-researchers at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, cancer patients who also test positive to the Covid-19 are most likely to die because of the disease compared to those who do not have cancer.

Cancer patients must be monitored closely.A study was carried out and it
involved 218 cancer patients who also tested positive to the Covid-19 from 18 March to 8 April at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York City. The study showed that 61 out of all these cancer patients died from Covid-19.

It was also discovered that covid-19 patients with haematologic (blood) cancers, such as leukaemia and lymphoma, also have the highest death rate, whilst those with breast cancer and prostate cancer had the lowest death rates.

“Our results showed that we must try by all means to prevent cancer patients from being infected by the Covid-19 and if they unfortunate enough to contract it they must be closely watched for dangerous symptoms,” said Dr Vikas Mehta, co-lead author of the study and a surgical oncologist at Montefiore.

“We sincerely hope that our results can educate states and communities that have not yet been greatly affected by this pandemic about the different risk cancer patients face.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is the second main cause of death globally, and has so far claimed roughly about 9.6 million life’s in 2018 alone. The latest (2018) South African profile from the WHO shows that just over 107 000 South Africans were living with cancer.

Cancer patients should carry on with their treatment
Cancer patients’ immune systems are usually weakened because of their treatment, or the cancer itself. However, the data implies that patients should not stop their treatment, co-senior author Dr Amit Verma, director of the division of haemato-oncology at Montefiore and professor of medicine and developmental and molecular biology at Einstein explained.

“Rather, cancer patients should look for ways to reduce potential Covid-19 exposures and re-evaluate therapies for our most helpless cancer populations,” Verma explained.

An analysis showed that more than half of the patients who were part of the study was found to have been in places which have a higher risk of exposure to Covid-19, and those places include nursing homes, hospitals or emergency departments within the 30 days prior to them being diagnosed with Covid-19, the study found. However, the writer noted that this was before physical distancing had been introduced in the US.

Since at the momet there is no vaccine to prevent Covid-19, or specific treatment for it, those who are most vulnerable to it such as those people with immune compromisin conditions, such as cancer, also those who are over the age of 65 and people who already have medical conditions such as diabetes and lung disease must be extra careful so as to reduce their chances of contracting the virus.

This involves practising really good hand hygiene, staying away from crowds, as well as anyone who may be sick, and try by all means to stay at home as much as possible. Cancer patients who show any sign of the virus should inform their doctor or oncologist for professional guidance on whether their symptoms are in line with Covid-19 or their cancer diagnosis.

The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) also has established an online support platform, says Lucy Balona, Head of Marketing & Communication at CANSA. “We are exchanging information and are still saving and helping patients during this time.”