The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 is low for most people. However, it’s very important to know that people being treated for breast cancer may have a higher risk of severe illness if they get COVID-19.
Specifically, if you are on chemotherapy or immunotherapy, or you have metastatic breast cancer, your immune system may be weakened. This means you have an increased risk of getting sick from COVID-19.
The following breast cancer treatments can weaken the immune system:
- all standard chemotherapy drugs, such as Taxol (chemical name: paclitaxel), Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel), Cytoxan (chemical name: cyclophosphamide), and carboplatin
- certain targeted therapies, such as Ibrance (chemical name: palbociclib), Kisqali (chemical name: ribociclib), Verzenio (chemical name: abemaciclib), and Piqray (chemical name: alpelisib)
To provide more information, researchers at Vanderbilt University have launched a project called the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19) to track outcomes of adults diagnosed with cancer around the world who have been infected with COVID-19. More than 100 cancer centers and other organizations are participating.
The first report from this project was published in the Lancet on May 28, 2020, and included information on 928 people diagnosed with cancer in Spain, Canada, and the United States who also were diagnosed with COVID-19. Breast cancer was the most common cancer in the group, affecting about 20% of the people. Half the people were older than 66, and 30% were older than 75
By now, we all know the common symptoms of COVID-19, and they remain the same for breast cancer patients:
- Shortness of breath
- Muscle or body aches
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- New loss of taste or smell
- Nausea or vomiting
Likewise, to give yourself the best chance of avoiding Covid-19, follow these preventive steps (the same for breast cancer patients and everyone else):
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This is especially important after being in a public place and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer.
- Keep a strong immunity by eating healthy meals that include lots of vegetables, getting plenty of sleep, exercising daily, and reducing stress.
- Stay home as much as possible.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Keep space between yourself and others outside of your home.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Wear a cloth face cover when you go out in public (for example, to the grocery store). This is to protect other people in case you are infected. Do NOT put a face cover on young children or anyone who can’t remove it without help (for example, someone who has trouble breathing or is incapacitated in some way). Don’t use a face mask meant for a health care worker.
- Stay home when you are sick. Cover your cough with your elbow or sleeve. Sneeze into a tissue and throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
Speaking of stress, this is a stressful time. To reduce stress, the CDC recommends:
- Taking breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories about coronavirus, including social media.
- Taking care of yourself. Try taking deep breaths, stretching, meditating and praying. Avoid excessive alcohol.
- Making time to do things you enjoy, such as taking a walk, gardening, knitting, reading a book or cooking.
- Talking with others about your concerns and how you’re feeling. Call, FaceTime, Zoom or Skype with family and friends.
Sources: BreastCancer.org, Komen.org