The spread of COVID-19 that is caused by the coronavirus poses a unique challenge for oncology patients, their caregivers and families. Similar to other adults that suffer from chronic disease such as diabetes and hypertension, individuals with cancer, especially those receiving anti-cancer treatment, may be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and a higher likelihood of developing serious complications.The patients at highest risk are most likely patients who have undergone bone marrow transplantation, hematological patients and oncology patients receiving chemotherapy. However, any oncology patient may be at elevated risk, particularly: those receiving active therapies (for example immunotherapies, biological therapies etc), those with active disease who may not be receiving treatment but have undergone recent surgery and those receiving only palliative or supportive care.Should I be in isolation?No. If you were not directly exposed to or in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 and you are not in the risk groups defined by the ministry of health (for example, those who have returned from recent travel overseas) you do not need to be in isolation. However, in light of the possibility of an increased risk of infection, several simple measures to reduce the chance of infection are recommended.The virus spreads from person-to-person contact, particularly if in close physical proximity of less than 2 meters. The virus may also remain in droplets on nearby surfaces.Recommendations:
How should I maintain optimal hygiene?
Regular hand washing is the most important measure to practice routinely. Hand-wash with soap and water for 20 seconds. Avoid touching your face, sneeze and cough into a tissue (which should then be disposed of immediately) or elbow (not into your hands) and maintain cleanliness of nearby surfaces that are in frequent use.Should I cancel my appointments and avoid coming to the oncology or hematology departments?Appointment cancellation is not recommended, and you should attend appointments and scheduled treatments. Your treating medical team may contact you and offer alternative medical follow-ups, such as tele-medicine, telephone and email consultations. When possible, avoid bringing caregivers or company to the department visits, and if necessary, no more than one person.What should I do if I feel unwell?The symptoms of the virus are predominantly fever, cough and shortness of breath. If you feel generally unwell you should contact your treating oncology/hematology department. If you have a fever and/or respiratory symptoms, please notify your treating physician and avoid entering the oncology/hematology department without coordination and consultation with the medical staff. Before coming to the hospital, wear a mask that covers the nose and mouth. If you feel unwell outside of regular clinic hours, seek medical attention from your Kupat Holim or an emergency department. It is important to remember that not every mild symptom is evidence of infection with the virus and you should give careful consideration when deciding if to attend an emergency department.How can I strengthen my immune system?It is important to continue to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including routine physical activity at home or walking outdoors where there are no crowds (it is best to avoid gyms). Avoid smoking, which in addition to general detrimental health effects, weakens the body’s ability to fight any respiratory infection including the coronavirus. Maintain healthy sleep practices and a healthy, balanced diet. Ask your physician about recommended vaccinations such as vaccination against influenza and pneumonia. (To date, there is no vaccination against COVID-19).This information page was prepared on behalf of the Israeli Society for Medical & Radiation Oncology by Professor Ido Wolf, Director of Oncology, Sourasky Medical Centre and consultant for the Israeli Cancer Association. The document was translated to enlgish by Dr Shani Paluch-Shimon, Director of Oncology, Shaare Zedek Medical Centre and consultant for the Israeli Cancer Association.