COVID-19 FAQs: For Cancer Patients

Information for Cancer Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The health and safety of our patients, families and staff remain our top priorities as we face the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our teams at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center are devoted to providing compassionate care to all of our patients and cancer survivors.

We understand that you may have concerns during this difficult time, but know we are steadfast in our commitment to safely providing lifesaving cancer treatment. We’re here to ensure you receive the critical care you need and help you achieve the best possible outcomes.

“Our care team makes treatment decisions with each patient in mind, and now more than ever, the team is making decisions very thoughtfully and carefully in the COVID context. As always, we offer team-oriented, collaborative, cutting-edge, specialized cancer care centered on you.”
Daphne Haas-Kogan, MD, Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology

The following Q&A provides details into the safety measures we’re taking to provide safe, high-quality care for you and your loved one at this time.

Dr. Daphne Haas-Kogan, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, shares the many safety measures implemented to ensure hundreds of cancer patients continue to receive cutting-edge, patient-centered care during COVID-19.

Your Safety at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

What measures are in place to keep me safe when I come to the hospital for an appointment?

The health and safety of our patients, families and staff is our top priority. As we welcome more patients back to our hospital and outpatient facilities, we are taking a comprehensive approach to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. We know that COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future, so we’ve implemented numerous measures to provide the safest possible environment.

Should I be concerned that the hospital is treating COVID-19 patients?

We’ve taken every precaution to ensure that we can provide all patients, including those with COVID-19, with the highest quality care while protecting other patients, hospital staff and visitors.

I have an upcoming appointment and I’m concerned about COVID-19. Can I continue cancer treatment at this time?

Every cancer treatment plan is different with regards to cancer type, stage and risk of ongoing treatment therapy. If you’re currently receiving cancer therapy, ask your care team about how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect your treatment plan.

In some cases, active therapies such as chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiation therapy may continue without pause. In other cases, your care team may suggest modifying your treatment plans. These changes may include shorter courses of radiation, milder chemotherapies or delaying treatment until a safer time. We make these recommendations to reduce your overall risk of health complications without compromising your overall care.

If the care team hasn’t contacted you about rescheduling your upcoming appointment or replacing it with a virtual visit, we strongly recommend you continue with your existing treatment plan.

Can I make a virtual visit appointment to meet with my cancer team?

For all patients, clinical visits may be rescheduled or the number of in-person visits may be reduced for your safety and the safety of our staff. These in-person visits may be replaced by a “virtual visit” performed by telephone or a video platform. Virtual visits allow patients to stay in touch with their care team during this time. If you’re interested in having a virtual visit, talk to your provider to find out if this type of visit can be a part of your care. Visit the Brigham Virtual Visits page to learn about a virtual visit.

Radiation Oncology Treatment and Safety Precautions

What steps has the Radiation Oncology Department taken to provide a safe environment?

In addition to the hospital’s safety measures, the Radiation Oncology Department is taking extra precautions to keep our patients and our staff safe from COVID-19. These precautions include:

  • Screenings: Cancer patients are screened for symptoms of respiratory-related illness within the Radiation Oncology Clinic. This is in addition to being screened at the building’s point of entry and/or the department point of entry for symptoms of respiratory-related illness.
  • Enhanced cleaning: We’ve increased the frequency of cleaning contact surfaces in our waiting rooms. We’ve also enhanced the cleaning and sanitization of all equipment and rooms.
  • Hand hygiene: Careful hand hygiene plays a key role in reducing the risk of infection spread. In addition to our standard practice of having staff clean their hands before and after each patient interaction, we now ask patients to clean their hands as they enter and exit the treatment room.
  • Patient monitoring: We’ll ask you to carefully self-monitor for symptoms of respiratory-related illness. We’ll also provide you with contact information for us to quickly assess the need for any additional testing.
  • Staff and health care provider monitoring: To keep our patients’ safety top of mind, we’re asking all staff to closely monitor themselves for symptoms of viral illness.
  • Protective equipment: We’ll ask you to wear the mask provided to you when entering the hospital for the duration of your appointment in the department. Everyone you come across will be wearing a mask for your safety and their own. During your appointment, providers and staff will wear personal protective equipment (PPE), including a mask, gloves and a gown when necessary.
  • Limiting time in clinic: Your weekly on-treatment visit will typically take place via video or phone with your provider or a covering provider.
  • Physical distancing: Creating spaces where physical distancing is possible is a central part of our strategy to keep you safe. There will be fewer staff in the clinic and visitors are no longer allowed to accompany you to your treatment. Because many visits have been moved to video or phone, waiting rooms are less populated.
  • Reducing exposure within the clinic: By enhancing physical distancing, patients have fewer exposures to staff, patients or family members within our clinic. To reduce infection risk, our clinic also now uses a paperless approach, offers individual water bottles to patients and continues to provide single-use food.

If I have questions and concerns about coming in for my regular treatment, who can I talk to?

Please contact your care team in Radiation Oncology directly at 617-732-6310, or you can stay connected with us through Mass General Brigham Patient Gateway. If you don’t have a Patient Gateway account, you can enroll here. We’re here to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

For Family Members and Caregivers

Will caregivers or family members be able to join me at my appointment?

To protect patients and staff, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are currently restricting routine visitors. Please review each visitor policy. While this may be stressful for patients and caregivers, this is one of the many ways hospitals are trying to protect patients at this time. Caregivers can continue to be supportive during visits via video communications or by phone.

How can caregivers protect cancer patients they care for?

People caring for family members and others with cancer should practice safe physical distancing for themselves to limit the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Caregivers should wash their hands often with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. If they don’t have soap and water conveniently available, they can use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol. They should also monitor their own health closely and report any concerning symptoms to their own health care team. Being a caregiver to a cancer patient can be stressful and the COVID-19 pandemic only adds to this stress. It’s important for caregivers to pay attention to their own mental health and find time for healthy eating, sleep and exercise.

Common Questions About COVID-19 and Cancer

Are patients still getting screened for cancer during this pandemic?

Routine screening exams may still continue at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many departments are limiting the frequency and number of tests being performed in an effort to keep patients and staff as safe as possible. Our teams are developing specific solutions for each type of screening to provide alternate solutions when possible. If you’ve been referred for a screening, it’s important to have your consultation at this time. We encourage you to reach out with any concerns you may have and discuss the best next steps with our care team. Additional information regarding screening is available from the American Cancer Society.

Why are cancer patients at increased risk for serious illness from COVID-19?

Cancer and the treatments used to treat cancer weaken the body’s immune system. The immune system is the body’s natural defense system against infections such as viruses. With defenses against infection lowered, cancer patients appear to have a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Cancer patients who have the greatest risk of COVID-19 infection include:

  • Patients who are currently undergoing chemotherapy.
  • Patients who are over the age of 70.
  • Patients who have cardiovascular disease, diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Patients who are smokers.

What should cancer patients do if they get sick with COVID-19?

If a cancer patient develops COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19, they should inform their cancer team immediately via phone or email. If you’ve tested positive, it’s important to avoid traveling to the clinic without speaking with your care team first due to the risk of spreading the illness. Your team will provide the next steps regarding your appointments and your ongoing treatment options. Letting the team know you have COVID-19 in advance allows them to prepare to protect themselves and other patients if you need to come to the clinic for medical care. If you are having severe symptoms or a medical emergency, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.

This information will be updated to reflect evolving policies.

Brigham COVID-19 Response Fund

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