Coronavirus: Treating cancer has become a balancing act

Coronavirus: Treating cancer has become a balancing act

BOSTON — As hospitals try to limit exposure to coronavirus for cancer patients, it has become a delicate balancing act that often leads to them feeling isolated.

“It’s always a challenging time to go through treatment for cancer patients, but this is adding additional challenges to them,” says Dr. Jeff Meyerhardt, a medical oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Clinical Director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center.

He says COVID-19 has changed everything.

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He says the frontline staff is there 24/7, but many workers at Dana Farber are working remotely. They’ve also put in place a no-visitor policy for the protection of patients.

He says this is a very isolating time to have cancer.

"Some of them live alone, some of them live with limited family, they’re not seeing their grandchildren or other family members visiting,” he says.

Meyerhardt says they’re also trying to limit hospital visits for the patients.

“We have switched patients who don’t require coming into the center for treatment to Telehealth,” he said.

He’s worried that many routine screenings at primary care doctors are being pushed off because of the pandemic and that could lead to a later diagnosis of new cancer.

“Ignoring symptoms certainly could cause more problems down the road. You don’t want to ignore symptoms if you’re having bleeding, for example, if you’re having a new pain, you should at least talk to your primary care doctor," he says.

Meyerhardt says if you do have concerning symptoms that you shouldn’t go to the emergency room where you could risk exposure to COVID-19.

He says call your primary care doctor and they can direct you where to go if you need additional tests or screening.

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