COVID-19: What People with Cancer Should Know

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals. SARS-CoV-2 is a novel (new) coronavirus that causes a respiratory disease named coronavirus disease 2019, which is abbreviated COVID-19.

As SARS-CoV-2 spreads, the virus can change, which results in new variants. Some variants may spread more easily than others or be more resistant to vaccines or treatments.

So it is the need of the hour to study the various aspects of “doubly unfortunate” patient suffering from both COVID-19 and cancer. The present review discuses briefly the risk and molecular aspects of the link between cancer and COVID-19, impact on the diagnosis, treatment, and research along with special attention to the repurposing of anticancer drugs in the management of the deadly duo of COVID-19 and cancer.

If I have cancer now or had it in the past, am I at higher risk of severe COVID-19?

If you have cancer, you have a higher risk of severe COVID-19. Other factors that increase the risk for severe COVID-19 include having a weakened immune system (being immunocompromised), older age, and other medical conditions.

People with blood cancers may be at higher risk of prolonged infection and death from COVID-19 than people with solid tumors. That is because patients with blood cancers often have abnormal or depleted levels of immune cells that produce antibodies against viruses.

NCI is conducting a large study of people with cancer who have COVID-19 to learn more about the risk factors for COVID-19 and to help doctors better manage treatment for people with cancer and COVID-19.

If you had cancer in the past, you also may be at higher risk of severe COVID-19, and you may want to discuss your concerns about COVID-19 with your doctors.

If I have cancer now or had it in the past, should I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone age 6 months and older get vaccinated. That includes most people with underlying medical conditions, including cancer.

CDC recommends most people get the Moderna, Novavax, or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for their primary doses. You may get Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine in some situations. Depending on which vaccine is used for your primary doses, booster doses may be recommended. Currently, only the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are authorized to be used for booster doses.

If, like most people (including most people who had cancer in the past), you have a healthy immune system, CDC recommends that you follow one of these vaccine schedules:

If I’m at high risk for severe COVID-19, what are other ways that I can protect myself?

Aside from vaccination, the most effective way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to the virus that causes it. To protect yourself and prevent the spread of COVID-19, take precautions:

Get a COVID-19 vaccination and booster shot.
Wear a well-fitting mask that covers your nose and mouth.
Stay 6 feet away from people who don’t live with you.
Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
Some doctors advise that you make sure anyone you do have contact with has been vaccinated and/or tested negative for COVID-19.
Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
Cover coughs and sneezes.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
Monitor your health and be alert for symptoms of COVID-19.
Your family members, loved ones, and caregivers can help protect you and other people at high risk of serious COVID-19 by following these precautions, too.

Certain people who are at high risk of severe illness from SARS-CoV-2 infection may be eligible to receive Evusheld to prevent the development of COVID-19 even before they have become infected with the virus. This product, a combination of the monoclonal antibodies tixagevimab and cilgavimab, has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use and is not a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination. People age 12 and older weighing at least 40 kg. (or 88 lb.) are eligible to receive Evusheld only if they

are not currently infected with SARS-CoV-2 and have not recently been exposed to someone who is infected
are moderately to severely immunocompromised and may not mount a protective immune response to COVID-19 vaccines
are unable to be fully vaccinated due to a history of severe adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccine or its components
What should I do if I have symptoms of an infection? What treatment should I get if I have COVID-19?

If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of an infection, you should get a COVID-19 test. If the test shows that you have COVID-19, isolate yourself from others and call your health care provider.

People with cancer who develop mild to moderate COVID-19 may be eligible to receive antiviral medications or monoclonal antibody treatments that prevent the illness from progressing to serious COVID-19.

If you are being treated for cancer and also need treatment for COVID-19, your health care providers should consider potential drug interactions with your cancer therapies or overlapping side effects. In some cases, your cancer treatment may need to be paused or modified while you receive treatment for COVID-19.

Visit CDC’s website for more information about treatments your health care provider might recommend if you are sick.

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