COVID-19 and Mesothelioma – What You Need to Know
The COVID-19 virus has severely affected the health of individuals as well as public healthcare systems in the U.S. For mesothelioma patients and their families, the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has likely interrupted daily caregiving activities, scheduled cancer treatments, and even valuable time with loved ones.
The risk of getting sick can be dangerous for people with underlying medical conditions and weakened immune systems – especially for people going through certain types of rigorous cancer therapy. Even patients who avoid catching the coronavirus may experience canceled doctors’ visits, delayed treatments, and difficulty filling prescriptions. Alone or in combination, these pandemic-related changes can have a wide range of effects on mesothelioma treatment.
What Is COVID-19?
COVID-19 is a virus that causes respiratory infection and other health problems. The 2019 novel coronavirus disease and its variants are also sometimes referred to as covid, coronavirus, and SARS-CoV-2. The infection is called “novel” because it is a new strain of the disease, discovered in 2019. Every day, researchers are learning more information about how the body reacts to the disease.
|Why Is It Called COVID-19?|
Typically, covid is spread via particles in the air. This usually happens during close contact between people when one is infected with the virus. Scientists are still researching how quickly and under what conditions the virus is able to spread among groups of people.
Key COVID-19 and Cancer Research
- In the initial months of the pandemic, cancer patients who tested positive for covid were more likely to be admitted to the ICU and suffer higher mortality rates.
- COVID-19 has been linked to long-term health complications like diabetes, heart disease, low blood cell count, psychiatric conditions, renal failure, and stroke.
- People with solid organ cancers like lung and colon cancer have 1.8 times increased risk of death from coronavirus, according to a study in Nature.
- A University of Pennsylvania study revealed that even patients whose cancer was in remission had a higher risk of severe covid infections.
Symptoms of Covid
Symptoms of covid can vary from person to person. Moreover, some individuals may contract the virus without ever knowing it because they don’t experience any symptoms (known as asymptomatic). The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- New loss of smell or taste
- Runny nose
- Shortness of breath
- Sore throat
Seek emergency medical services if you start exhibiting severe symptoms of covid, such as:
- Bluish lips, face, or toes
- Constant pain or heaviness in your chest
- New difficulty waking up
- New feelings of confusion
- Swelling of the legs
- Stroke symptoms
- Trouble breathing
Some people feel covid’s side effects for weeks or months after initially contracting the virus. Known as “long-haul symptoms” or “lingering effects,” symptoms may include breathlessness, feelings of confusion or difficulty thinking, persistent fatigue, and increased risk of blood clots. Patients with these symptoms are referred to as “long-haulers” and are still being studied.
Even if you test positive for coronavirus, you may not need any professional medical treatment (depending on your symptoms). Additionally, many people who require treatment for COVID-19 primarily receive treatment for the side effects caused by the virus. For example, intravenous (IV) fluids and/or over-the-counter drugs may be given to patients who become dehydrated as a result of diarrhea or vomiting.
To date, the FDA has only approved remdesivir (Veklury®) to treat children and adults who have been hospitalized with COVID-19. The medication prevents the virus from copying itself, leading to shorter recovery times for some. Yet, other people may experience side effects like abnormal liver tests, low blood pressure, sweating, and chills after being treated with the drug.
The FDA has approved other drugs for treatment with emergency use authorization (EUA) status. Generally, EUA drugs are still being studied in clinical trials. New drugs and forms of treatment must demonstrate a significant potential to benefit the general population to receive EUA approval.
Drugs granted EUA approval by the FDA for covid treatment include:
- Bamlanivimab and etesevimab
- Casirivimab and imdevimab
- Baricitinib (Olumiant®)
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Risk of Infection for Cancer Patients
Unfortunately, age is a risk factor in being diagnosed with cancer as well as COVID-19. People who have been diagnosed with cancer (even those who had cancer in the past but are cancer-free today) also have a higher risk of developing side effects from the virus that require medical treatment. Other health problems (such as underlying medical conditions) can increase the risk of a fatal covid infection.
Your overall health plays an important role in your body’s ability to fight infection. If you have mesothelioma, or if you are undergoing certain types of cancer treatment, your immune system may not be strong enough to mount an effective response to the virus.
Talk with your cancer care and caregiving teams about what steps you should take if you start to feel sick. Make a plan with your caregiver in the event either of your tests positive for covid.
How Can Cancer Patients Protect Themselves from COVID-19?
To protect people at risk of potentially fatal complications from covid, the CDC recommends a few guidelines to reduce the potential to pass the virus. In addition to the CDC’s recommendations, cancer patients may need to take extra precautions in order to prevent being exposed to the coronavirus. Because doctors are still learning about the effects of COVID-19 on people with cancer, guidelines will likely change over time.
10 COVID-19 Tips for Cancer Patients and Caregivers
- Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth.
- Maintain a six-foot distance from people who don’t live in your home.
- Avoid crowds of people and rooms with poor ventilation.
- Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds each time. Use hand sanitizer afterward.
- Stay away from anyone who tests positive for covid or who appears sick.
- Clean and disinfect living spaces regularly.
- Pay close attention to your health and any changes.
- Reduce all non-essential travel (especially international travel).
- Stay home if you feel sick (except to seek medical care).
- Get vaccinated against COVID-19.
A vaccine (also referred to as vaccinations and immunizations) is a weakened form of a virus that helps the body recognize and fight the disease later on. In the U.S., the FDA has given EUA approval to three COVID-19 vaccines to prevent serious illness, hospitalizations, and the spread of the disease. The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are now available in two separate doses to certain groups of people.
|Pfizer-BioNTech||2 doses given 3 weeks apart||Approved for people 16 years of age or older|
|Moderna||2 doses given 4 weeks apart||Approved for people 18 years of age or older|
|Single-injection vaccine||1 dose||Approved for people 18 years of age or older|
|Potential Vaccine Side Effects|
Generally, cancer patients are considered a high-priority group for receiving the vaccine to prevent serious infections and fatalities. Consequently, most medical organizations encourage patients to get vaccinated. However, certain cancer therapies (such as CAR T-cell therapy, some immunotherapies, and aggressive chemotherapy rounds) may limit the effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Some patients may be asked to wait at least three months after cancer treatment to get vaccinated. All patients and anyone with a history of cancer should talk with their doctor about making a vaccination appointment against coronavirus.
Changes to Health Care Caused by the Pandemic
Even for mesothelioma patients and their families who managed to avoid a COVID-19 infection, the effects of the pandemic couldn’t be escaped. The outbreak continues to impact hospitals by limiting the availability of many resources. To adjust to new modes of cancer care, some patients have been forced to delay or reschedule treatments, cancer screenings, doctors’ visits, and more.
Cancer prevention, in particular, took a hit during the 2020 pandemic. Early screening for cancer was down more than 90 percent compared to other years, caused in part by a loss of insurance and fears of being exposed to the virus in health care facilities.
Clinical trials that research curative and palliative treatments for mesothelioma were also affected by lockdowns and quarantine. Many studies were shuttered (at least temporarily), potentially delaying improvements in medical science for years.
FAQ for Patients, Families, and Caregivers
- Why can’t my caregiver come with me to doctor’s visits? Under CDC recommendations to prevent the spread of covid, many hospitals and doctor’s offices have reduced the number of non-essential personnel allowed inside their facilities. This may mean asking your caregiver to wait in the car or at home while you receive medical care.
- Is it safe for cancer patients to take the covid vaccine? Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer is considered a “high priority” for receiving the vaccine and preventing further illness and loss of life. However, some patients may be asked by their doctor to delay receiving the vaccine until it is safer for their immune system.
- Should mesothelioma caregivers get vaccinated? In order to protect loved ones from the spread of the virus, most medical organizations recommend vaccination to caregivers and anyone providing daily care to cancer patients.
- Should I still get screened for cancer? Yes, as long as it is safe for you to do so. Early screening is one of the most important methods for reducing cancer-related deaths. Many facilities have implemented standards to ensure your safety during your appointment.
- Will my insurance pay for COVID-19 treatment or a vaccine? Your insurance may pay for your treatment if you’re hospitalized with covid, or the vaccine, depending on your insurance plan. Medicare, Medicaid, and VA medical benefits may also provide some coverage.