COVID Meets Cancer, a Recipe for Catastrophe

Staying Safe in a New World

How to Protect Your Family COVID-19 in 2023

Cancer and CovidCOVID-19 has dramatically changed in 2023. Viruses, like the one that causes COVID-19, can change over time through a process called mutation. This can lead to new virus variants with slightly different traits than the original. Some variants may spread more easily or be more resistant to vaccines or treatments.

Several new variants of COVID-19 have emerged since the pandemic’s start, and more are likely to appear in the future. While children are generally less likely to experience severe illness from COVID-19, children with cancer are at increased risk. As a parent of a child with cancer, it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect your family. Even though it may seem like the world has relaxed its precautions against COVID-19, it’s especially important for anyone who has had cancer or currently has cancer to keep their protection levels high against the virus that doesn’t seem to want to go away anytime soon.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with cancer are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 because their immune systems are often weakened by the cancer and its treatments. This is especially true for people with blood cancers, such as leukemia or lymphoma, and those receiving chemotherapy, long-term corticosteroids, certain types of immunotherapy, or a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. The good news is that people who have been treated for cancer in the past, especially if it was years ago, are more likely to have normal immune function. However, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your individual risk because it can vary depending on your type of cancer, the type of treatment you received, and other factors.

Doctors are still learning about the risks of COVID-19 infection for people with cancer, but it’s important to take steps to lower the risk of infection. Here’s a little reminder of the top four protection measures families with a historical or current cancer diagnosis should still take:

  • Young boy looking down

    Photo by cottonbro studio

    Get everyone vaccinated. The CDC still recommends that everyone age 6 months and older stay updated with the COVID-19 vaccines, including cancer patients. The COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus. All children, over 6 months are now eligible for the vaccine.

  • Wear a mask in public indoor settings. COVID-19 can be spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Masks can help block these droplets from being released into the air and inhaled by others. Encourage everyone in your family to wear masks in general indoor settings, such as stores, restaurants, and schools. The CDC advises that the best type of mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is a respirator such as an N95 or KN95 mask. These masks are designed to filter out at least 95% of microscopic particles, including viruses. Other types of masks, such as surgical and cloth masks, can also help reduce the spread of viruses, but they are not as effective as respirators.

  • Washing hands

    Photo by Burst

    Wash your hands often. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs. Encourage everyone in your family to wash their hands often, especially after using the bathroom, eating, and being around someone sick. The best soap to wash your hands to kill viruses is a regular soap, either bar or liquid, as long as it produces lather. This is because lather helps to break down the virus’s outer shell or lipid membrane, rendering it inactive. Antibacterial soaps are unnecessary for killing viruses, and they can actually contribute to developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

  • Disinfecting

    Photo by cottonbro studio

    Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and countertops, to help prevent the spread of germs. The best thing to disinfect surfaces against COVID-19 is a disinfectant registered with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use against the virus. These disinfectants are listed on the EPA’s List N: Disinfectants for Coronavirus (COVID-19). Common disinfectants that are effective against COVID-19 include:
    • Alcohol solutions containing at least 70% alcohol
    • Bleach solutions diluted to 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (1 part bleach to 9 parts water)
    • Hydrogen peroxide solutions containing at least 3% hydrogen peroxide

  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated indoor spaces. This will help to reduce the chances of being exposed to the virus. Respiratory droplets are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can contain the virus and land in the mouths or noses of nearby people. Aerosols are very small particles that can be suspended in the air longer than respiratory droplets. They can be produced when an infected person speaks, sings, or breathes heavily. Aerosols can be inhaled by nearby people, even if not close to the infected person.

    Current Research

    The NCI COVID-19 in Cancer Patients Study (NCCAPS) is conducting research that is helping doctors better understand how COVID-19 affects people with cancer and how to best manage their treatment. The study follows people with cancer over time to learn more about how COVID-19 affects them. In this type of study, researchers collect medical information about participants to understand how the disease develops and changes. Diagnosis and treatment are not part of natural history studies. In this study, researchers collected blood samples, medical information, and medical images from nearly 1,800 people with cancer who have also had COVID-19. Each person will be followed for up to 2 years.

    The knowledge gained through this study will help doctors to:

    • Better understand the risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19 in people with cancer.
    • Learn how COVID-19 affects cancer treatment and its outcomes.
    • Identify genetic risk factors and markers for serious illness from COVID-19 in people with cancer.

    This information will be used to develop new strategies to protect people with cancer from COVID-19 and to improve their treatment outcomes. Please talk to your doctor if you have any questions about the NCCAPS study.

    Here to Serve Can Help

    We know that cancer and COVID-19 can be a scary combination. You may feel overwhelmed, isolated, and uncertain about the future. But please know that you are not alone. Here To Serve is to support you through this challenging time.

    We offer a variety of resources and services to help people with cancer and their families, including:

    • Financial assistance
    • Emotional support
    • Practical help with things like transportation and childcare

    If you need help, please reach out to Here To Serve. We are here for you. We know you are strong, resilient, and capable of overcoming this challenge. With our support, you will get through this. We are here to serve you.

    By Sameera Rangwala, M.S., M.P.H

    About the Author

    Sameera Rangwala spent over 15 years in the biotechnology industry and is currently a life science educator for children in grades 5-8.  As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provide words of support to the cancer community.

    All content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.