If you are living with cancer, it’s understandable to be concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, Edward Kim, M.D., M.B.A, Physician-in-Chief, City of Hope Orange County, answers common questions and offers advice for these uncommon times.
What are the risks for people with cancer during the pandemic?
COVID-19 presents a greater risk to people living with cancer because many have weakened immune systems. This situation is heightened when receiving treatments impacting the immune response, such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy and antibody therapies, radiotherapy, and bone marrow or stem cell treatments. We have also found that people with certain blood or bone marrow cancers may be at elevated risk.
It’s important for everyone to stay vigilant but it’s particularly vital for people with underlying health conditions such as cancer or diabetes. Of course, you shouldn’t delay cancer treatment if you have received a cancer diagnosis. Our advice is to stay vigilant, talk with your doctor, and always adhere to current guidelines for COVID-19 prevention.
Should I keep my appointments if I am undergoing cancer treatment?
It’s very important to continue treatment. Patients whose care teams take rigorous precautions to safeguard against COVID-19 will be best served by proceeding with their cancer therapy, in keeping with their physician’s guidance. At City of Hope, our decades of institutional expertise in caring for immunocompromised cancer makes us one of the most prepared organizations in the country to help patients through the pandemic. Our extensive safeguards include:
- Expanded use of telemedicine, allowing patients to see a physician from the comfort of home
- A no-visitor policy to enhance safety and reduce the number of people in the office
- Pre-entry temperature checks
- Medical-grade masks worn by all
- Physically distanced waiting rooms and infusion bays
- Frequent and meticulous sanitizing of all areas of the facility
- Hand sanitizing stations located throughout the building
What about the COVID-19 vaccine?
We are greatly encouraged by the expanding vaccine access and the protection it will provide to our patients, staff and community. Ideally, most cancer patients should get vaccinated when they have the opportunity but patients should discuss the risks and benefits of getting the vaccine with their oncologists. Each patient’s situation is unique. The precautions are similar to what we tell patients before getting their annual flu shots. You can take the vaccine if you don’t have a history of severe allergic reactions to any of its components. Your doctor can help you determine if your health history indicates any potential concerns. It’s also important to remember that everyone needs to follow social distancing and other COVID-19 precautions.
I heard that City of Hope is also involved in developing a cancer vaccine. Can you tell us more?
Our vast experience in studying the immune system’s response to viral infections in cancer patients has led to exciting vaccine research. The vaccine known as COH0451 is currently in Phase I clinical trial and has produced strong immunity in preclinical research. It is freeze-dried, which would eliminate the challenges of keeping the vaccine cold. We are very hopeful about this breakthrough and will have more updates on our progress. It’s just one example of the range of our research and the far-reaching impact of our work.
Why is City of Hope Orange County considered an exceptional place for cancer care?
We are a world-class cancer research and treatment center speeding lifesaving breakthroughs to our patients. That means we deliver to local residents the latest and most effective treatments —some of which were never before available in Orange County. We are an exceptional choice in any situation, but especially now, when we can offer highly specialized expertise in navigating cancer during this pandemic. The reassuring words we always tell patients seem very relevant during these times: When you have cancer, we’ll hold your hand and never let go.
Discover safe and expert cancer care at City of Hope Newport Beach. Please call (949) 763-2204 to make an appointment.