Ensuring Lung Cancer Patient Safety During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Though this is a challenging time for all of us, people with chronic lung disease or lung cancer are feeling even more stress since they are at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19. That is why is it so important for organizations like the American Lung Association to offer increased support during this troubling time.
For lung cancer patients, the challenges posed by COVID-19 can include increased risk of complications from COVID-19, as well as changes and delays in treatment and screening schedules.
According to New York City-based Lung Association volunteer medical spokesperson Jorge Gomez, M.D., of Mount Sinai Health System, “Delays in treatment have been extremely challenging. Many institutions, like ours, in areas of high incidence of COVID-19, have had to suspend all elective surgeries. This is extremely distressing to patients and providers.”
Dr. Gomez’s health system also had to make significant changes to their clinical staffing duties. “During the height of the pandemic, we consolidated our clinical duties to have only one or two physicians seeing outpatients on any given day. As of June 1, we are back to a 70% normal schedule. However, we still see that there are patients who are reluctant to attend face-to-face visits because of fear of exposure to COVID-19.”
Patients are feeling the strain too. LUNG FORCE Hero Jane D. had been deeply concerned about her safety after learning about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and worked to remain consistently vigilant by wearing a face mask and adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) social distancing guidelines.
When Jane went for her first chemotherapy treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic, she entered the medical facility wearing a face mask and plastic gloves but noticed that not everyone in the waiting room, which contained both patients and family members, was following the same protective gear best practices. Furthermore, not all of the patients in the chemotherapy room were wearing face masks or observing CDC social distancing guidelines.
Appalled by what she had experienced, Jane immediately went home and emailed the cancer facility to share her concerns and question why masks were not required for anyone who entered the building. Through the help of the American Lung Association, she was able to recommend additional steps that her medical facility could take to protect patients.
“As a result of my discussion with the office manager of the cancer facility – when I arrived for another appointment two weeks later, there were signs on the door advising that, ‘Anyone entering this facility must wear a face mask’,” Jane said.
Dr. Gomez recommends that all patients speak proactively with their oncologist regarding their treatment, “Patients should have frank discussions with their oncologist to weigh the benefits and risks of treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. They should ask whether their disease is a more indolent, slow growing disease that will allow them to wait for treatment, or a more aggressive disease that requires immediate therapy.”
For other lung cancer patients, Jane encourages them to continue to advocate for themselves during this time, “During this very challenging time, we are at higher risk if exposed to the virus. For some who don’t have a friend or relative with cancer, they may not understand how vulnerable patients are and we must speak up and educate those who are unaware.”
According to Dr. Gomez, some of the steps that medical centers have taken to improve the safety of cancer patients have included:
- Mandatory COVID-19 testing and telephone health screening for all patients the day before administration of chemotherapy and COVID-19 screening of patients on arrival to the hospital.
- Widespread availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer for patients coming to the hospital.
- Continuous decontamination of patient waiting and treatment areas.
- Limiting daily patient visit volumes in order to maintain adequate social distancing.
- Delaying treatments that are not critical in order to decrease COVID-19 exposure for individual patients.
- Increasing utilization of telehealth visits to minimize patient COVID-19 exposure.
It’s important for all those living with lung disease, including COVID-19 and lung cancer to feel hope, optimism, and support. The Lung Association is taking action to support these lung cancer patients and caregivers with resources like our Lung HelpLine online support community and one-on-one mentorship program, while continuing to raise awareness of lung cancer as the #1 cancer killer of both women and men. Learn more and join the FORCE at LUNGFORCE.org.
Blog last updated: June 15, 2020