Coronavirus: What Mesothelioma Cancer Patients Should Know
March 6, 2020
Mesothelioma patients could be at risk of complications from the novel coronavirus, which is spreading rapidly across the United States and the rest of the world.
Organizers of the International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma, the largest mesothelioma conference in the U.S., postponed the April event after a “review of new [coronavirus] information released today regarding the risk to patients with thoracic malignancies.”
Patients with thoracic malignancies, such as mesothelioma, are at an especially high risk of contracting coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), a condition caused by the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
The compromised integrity of mesothelioma patients’ immune system and respiratory structures places them at high risk of infection.
Mesothelioma patients should prepare themselves with the information and resources to protect their health.
What Are the Risks of COVID-19 for Mesothelioma Patients?
The risks of COVID-19 for cancer patients and the elderly include severe health complications and inability to receive medical services, among others.
Spread of Infection
Proximity to sick individuals greatly increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. The probability of becoming ill rises exponentially in environments with large gatherings, such as conventions, meetings or parties. This is especially true for high-risk populations within hospitals or nursing homes.
Within the past week, a nursing home in Seattle was left devastated as COVID-19 claimed the lives of seven residents and left eight others sick.
Illness Leads to Delayed Cancer Treatment
Presenting with symptoms of fever or respiratory distress will prompt oncologists to postpone cancer therapy, so the immediate illness can be treated. This can delay the progress of a clinical trial or a round of chemotherapy.
Alternatively, immunotherapy side effects may mimic the appearance of COVID-19, which can prompt physicians to postpone treatment during an outbreak in order to make an accurate diagnosis.
Decreased Access to Medical Services
During an outbreak, hospitals and medical care are in especially high demand. Increased wait times and decreased availability of medications and supplies can hinder the quality of accessible treatment.
How Does COVID-19 Affect Someone with Mesothelioma?
Because mesothelioma primarily attacks the lining of the lungs and thoracic cavity, a respiratory disease, such as COVID-19, can be especially dangerous.
A new study published Feb. 27, 2020, in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology details the effects of early-phase pneumonia caused by COVID-19 in patients with lung cancer.
In the study, two patients who underwent recent lung lobectomies for adenocarcinoma were later found to have had COVID-19 at the time of surgery.
Pathological examinations of the tissue cells in these patients revealed damage due to increased fluid, exudate (a type of cellular waste), increased growth in the lining of air sacs and abnormally large cells.
The patients in this study did not exhibit symptoms of pneumonia at the time of the surgery, but these changes in the lungs indicate cancer patients infected with COVID-19 are at risk for opportunistic pneumonia.
Mesothelioma Symptoms Similar to Those of Coronavirus
The World Health Organization reports that patients diagnosed with coronavirus present flu-like symptoms, as well as other symptoms similar to those of mesothelioma, including:
- Sore throat
- Breathing troubles
Because cancer patients, including those with mesothelioma, are among those at high risk of serious illness from an infection, they should understand the risks of getting exposed to the disease.
If you develop cough, shortness of breath or fever, contact your doctor for instructions. If you have been in contact with someone you suspect has COVID-19, or you have traveled to an area affected by the outbreak, let your medical team or the emergency department know ahead of time.
Safety Tips for Patients and Caregivers
Staying vigilant and informed is the best way to protect yourself and prevent the spread of disease.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.
- Avoid touching your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, then immediately wash your hands.
- Avoid close contact with others who may be sick or at risk.
- Use sanitizing wipes to clean frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, desks, countertops, cell phones, computers and bathrooms.
- Avoid crowds and individuals who appear sick.
- Get vaccinated for influenza and pneumonia (if recommended by your doctor).
- Maintain healthy habits such as sleeping well, exercising regularly, and eating the right foods.
Staying home is usually advised if you are experiencing symptoms. This is the best way to prevent transmission of the disease and limits exertion and fatigue.
How to Stay Informed
Cancer patients need better protection and appropriate resources to properly handle the challenges they face during this epidemic.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has the latest developments on the outbreak and guidelines on how to prepare and respond. The CDC is also informing communities and health departments on how to proceed with emergency medical operations.
- The World Health Organization also has constant updates on the disease, as well as FAQ guides on how COVID-19 functions and how it’s being combatted by scientists.
Mesothelioma patients should also remain aware it is still flu season. Because many symptoms and prevention techniques overlap with COVID-19, exercising safe practices for both diseases is highly advised.