The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a pandemic. Cancer patients, survivors and caregivers may have questions about COVID-19 that are specific to cancer treatment. Here are some answers from gynecologic oncologists to questions that persons impacted by cancer might have.

  1. As a cancer patient, what does it mean to be “immunocompromised?”
    Many cancer patients have a weaker immune system than patients without cancer, especially when they are undergoing treatment like chemotherapy and radiation. Health care professionals refer to this as being “immunocompromised.” When your white blood cell count is especially low, you are considered neutropenic, an even more intense state of immunocompromise. Immunocompromised patients are at higher risk to acquire infections, including flu, routine coronavirus (cold) and COVID-19.
  2. What should I be asking my cancer care team at this time?
    Your cancer care team can help you understand if you are immunocompromised or neutropenic. Your care team can also help you weigh the risks and benefits of delaying your next cycle of treatment based on your current cancer status if you are wondering about taking a treatment break during this challenging time.
  3. How does COVID-19 differ from the flu?

COVID-19 has raised concerns because it is a new viral strain that appears to result in life-threatening disease in more patients than other coronavirus strains that cause the common cold. Flu, or influenza, is caused by a different virus, while still other viruses can cause influenza-like illnesses. For both COVID-19 and flu, the illness is usually mild enough that patients recover without requiring hospitalization.

  1. What can I do to stay healthy during the coronavirus outbreak?

Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands! Don’t touch your face. Maintain at least six feet of distance from others when in a group setting and avoid large crowds in enclosed spaces—referred to as social distancing. Avoid exposure to anyone who is symptomatic of a viral illness, especially with fever or a cough.

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