Hampton Roads doctors work to protect cancer patients amid COVID-19 pandemic


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — While the coronavirus pandemic has impacted all of our lives in one way or another, it’s a serious threat to cancer patients.

Health officials tell 10 On Your Side cancer patients are at a high-risk for infection because their immune systems are usually weakened by chemotherapy.

Studies show patients with lung or blood cancers are three times more likely to die from COVID-19 because natural defenses to fight off the virus are compromised.

Dr. Paul Conkling with Virginia Oncology Associates said cancer patients exposed to the coronavirus are more vulnerable.

“Patients who are immunocompromised, where their immune system is not working effectively, they are not going to have the natural defense to fight the COVID-19 virus. So they are at greater risk for having complications from that viral infection. The complications that are seen mostly are pulmonary, lung complications,” said Conkling.

For the past few weeks, we’ve all been encouraged to stay home and maintain social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of coronavirus. However, for cancer patients, it’s not that easy. Screenings and treatments cannot be delayed because many people must have chemotherapy right away.

Doctors are taking extra precautions to protect those patients. Although primary care offices are closed, treatments and screenings at the Virginia Oncology Associates have continued for the last six weeks. Nurses check the patient’s temperature and ask a few questions before appointments. Patients in remission or those who have long-term care are asked to delay check ups to prevent possible exposure to the virus.

If you suspect something is wrong, don’t hesitate to make an appointment.

“If they are having any problems, any of the seven warning signs of cancer… If people have problems like that, don’t delay seeking care. Don’t delay seeking care because of the COVID-19 pandemic. If people need attention, I encourage them to see their primary doctor and get the attention that they need so that there are not problems out there that are not diagnosed,” said Dr. Conkling.

Patients are encouraged to wear face masks whenever they are in public.

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