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Doctors offer advice, care during COVID-19 pandemic

Michelle Martin, for Karmanos Cancer Institute
Learn how cancer patients can stay safe during the coronavirus pandemic, despite being at an increased risk.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow, it is becoming more common to know someone who has had the virus. For those who do contract COVID-19, outcomes can vary. Cancer patients and those with other underlying conditions have reason for concern. However, there are many ways for cancer patients to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While we all face the social and economic impact of the coronavirus, some of us have more to consider than others,” said Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D., president and CEO of Karmanos Cancer Institute. “Cancer patients, who already face challenging diagnoses and treatments, are some of the most susceptible among us. But on a positive note, many of them already have been taking precautions against viruses. They understand and practice the steps they need to take to stay safe. Just as the general population is now practicing social distancing and avoiding friends and family who are ill, these are common practice for immunocompromised cancer patients.”

Cancer hospitals like Karmanos Cancer Institute have taken additional precautions during the pandemic that range from limiting visitor access to facilities and using telehealth technology for clinical appointments.

Karmanos is also looking at the long-term effects of the virus — in both the way it is affecting cancer care now and how it will for years to come. Clinical trials for COVID-19 treatment will begin soon at Karmanos to study the oral drug selinexor, which is currently used as a treatment for some patients with multiple myeloma. Karmanos is one of 40 locations around the world to participate in the selinexor clinical trial.

Cancer and COVID-19

Individuals with cancer see their doctors regularly, and that can help them safe from COVID-19. By having an open dialogue with their doctors and health care professionals, people with cancer can learn how to stay safe during the pandemic and raise any questions or concerns they have.

For most patients, that means following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines by practicing good hand hygiene, avoiding touching their faces, staying home if they are sick and practicing social distancing. They should also have an ample supply of their medications and consider asking their doctors about receiving extra.

Despite the pandemic, Karmanos continues to accept new patients who have a cancer diagnosis. For both new and existing patients, it is critical that patients stay up to date on their medical appointments.

“It is important for cancer patients to keep their appointments if they are receiving active treatment unless a physician deems it unnecessary at this time,” Bepler said. “I would also advise patients to try to minimize stress and get enough sleep.”

Treatments and medical appointments

Karmanos is using telehealth technology for patients to keep their clinical appointments, but many patients still need to visit a Karmanos location to receive chemotherapy or other treatments.

Patients who are receiving treatment can feel confident that they are getting it in an environment that keeps them safe and well. Everyone entering the facilities is screened for COVID-19 and social distancing is practiced while patients wait to be screened. The Institute’s Incident Response Team also meets regularly to update plans and share communication to ensure guidelines are followed and adjusted when necessary.

“We have followed the guidance of the CDC, along with our local leaders and the McLaren Emerging Pathogen Response Team, in designing our response to this crisis,” Bepler said. “We have adjusted our visitor policies, restricted access to facilities, limited contact and created algorithms for working with patients at various levels of risk.”

If a cancer patient is showing signs of COVID-19, they should work directly with their oncologist to recommend the best course of action. That is also true for any other health issues or concerns they might have.

“In general, it is important for patients to continue their treatment and share any health concerns or symptoms with their oncologist,” Bepler said.

Looking ahead

There is still a lot to learn about the relationship between COVID-19 and cancer. Karmanos is using its knowledge and expertise to help shape cancer care and treatment as it faces the challenge of the coronavirus and in preparing for the future.

In addition to hosting the selinexor clinical trial, Karmanos Cancer Institute also is accepting plasma donations through the American Red Cross.

In coordination with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Red Cross is looking for people who are fully recovered from COVID-19 to donate plasma to help current COVID-19 patients. People who have fully recovered from COVID-19 have antibodies in their plasma that can attack the virus.

“Researchers from around the world will be studying and gathering research relating to this pandemic for many years to come,” Bepler said. “It is likely to shift the medical community's understanding of infectious disease control and treatment. Through clinical trials and other cancer care treatments, Karmanos is playing an important role in understanding – and ultimately beating — this virus." 

To learn more about the ways that Karmanos Cancer Institute is helping patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit karmanos.org.

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.
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