What a Breast Cancer Patient Should Know About COVID-19

The advice of medical professionals regarding protection from Covid19 is what everyone, including cancer patients, should do. Stay at home as much as possible, try to be hygienic, wipe surfaces, clean regularly. Most importantly, wear a mask everywhere, except at home. Wash your hands, avoid touching your face, wear a mask outside the home, maintain social distance. As for the answers to the most frequently asked questions:

*Is the COVID-19 vaccine effective for people being treated for breast cancer?

It has been reported that COVID-19 vaccines show up to 95 percent efficacy, with minor side effects. At a very basic level, COVID-19 vaccines work by introducing a foreign pathogen into the body to activate the immune system. As the immune system counters, it uses T and B cells to “remember” how to do it again in the future.develops. More information on the types of vaccines (mRNA, vector and protein subunit) tested and evaluated can be found here. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation suppress the body’s immune system. Without data from clinical trials, it is not yet known whether the vaccine will be effective for patients undergoing immunosuppressive cancer treatment or whether these patients will have unique side effects. However, national institutions and organizations have made a statement that cancer patients should be encouraged to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

*Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for breast cancer patients?

Current information indicates that leading vaccines will be safe for cancer patients. COVID-19 vaccines do not use live viruses that can cause serious side effects for patients receiving immunosuppressive therapy. Since live vaccines are not used in our country, it is recommended that patients who have finished their treatment talk to their doctors.

*Does the COVID-19 vaccine protect cancer patients?

Stopping the spread of the virus and saving lives by easing the burden of the epidemic on the national health system is the primary goal. In addition, the mass vaccination effort will protect cancer patients and those who are vulnerable to infection (through herd immunity).

*Is there a high risk of contracting coronavirus due to treatment?

Chemotherapy for breast cancer patients tends to be toxic to the immune system (for other types of cancer, such as leukemia, chemotherapy is usually more intense and destroys the entire immune system). Because chemotherapy affects the patient’s ability to fight bacteria, they are injected to increase the white blood cell count.

There are special concerns for cancer patients whose treatment protocols include immunotherapy. While immunotherapy is not a common treatment for breast cancer, it is sometimes used for triple negative subtypes. Treatment can affect the lungs, making potential patients more vulnerable to COVID-19. Patients on hormone therapy may not feel normal, but their immune systems are much less at risk.

In conclusion: All patients receiving treatment should follow their general recommendations to limit the spread of the virus. Patients undergoing chemotherapy, immunotherapy should be more careful.

  • When the treatment is completed successfully, will the immune system collapse?

The immune system is usually not weakened after breast cancer treatment, but any concerns or underlying conditions should be discussed with the doctor.

  • Should chemotherapy and radiation treatments be continued?

During the pandemic, the patient may be concerned about getting treatment. However, hospitals and treatment centers have taken extra precautions to protect patients and staff. Things have changed since the onset of the pandemic. In general, it is safe to go to the doctor or hospital as long as you wear a mask and practice social distancing from other patients. Cancer treatment is important. Often, doctors try to keep treatments on schedule. However, the doctor should still be consulted about whether he recommends any changes.

*How should mammograms and other routine screenings be done?

In the early stages of the pandemic, hospitals and screening facilities were closed due to COVID-19, and routine mammograms of many women were delayed or cancelled. Patients who showed symptoms of breast cancer did not experience major deterioration. Now, routine mammograms are safe if the doctor agrees. Scanning facilities have changed waiting room layouts, check-in procedures, cleaning procedures, and more to make mammograms safe. If everyone wears a mask, the risk of contracting COVID-19 is low. If there is still concern, an early morning appointment can be made. In case of mammogram cancellation, rescheduling should be done as soon as possible.

*Which COVID-19 symptoms should be looked for in breast cancer patients?

The most important coronavirus symptoms to watch out for are fever and shortness of breath. Breast cancer patients undergoing treatment should always pay attention to these symptoms, and the doctor should be called at the first sign without losing time. Other symptoms: chills, cough, loss of a new taste or smell, tiredness, muscle or body, headache and sore throat, congestion, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea.

  • How should stress be managed?

We live with more stress than ever before. There are helpful online tools from yoga to therapy. Finding a way to nurture the inner self is important to the patient and their caregivers. Yoga, exercise, or any activity known to be calming should be done on schedule. Although meditation has been shown to reduce stress and strengthen the immune system, additional measures include a healthy diet, reducing alcohol intake, and quality night sleep.

Follow-up after Breast Cancer Treatment is a must!

Most women are relieved that their breast cancer treatment is over, but after the process, they may experience anxiety due to the feeling of being away from the hospital – uncontrolled. At this stage, it is necessary to; the patient must attend all follow-up appointments because they need to be closely monitored.

Laboratory-imaging tests are not necessary after treatment for early-stage breast cancer. It may only be done in some women to look for symptoms or side effects of treatment. Every cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may not appear for a few days, weeks or even years after treatment ends. doctor visit; This is a good time to ask questions, talk about any noticed changes, problems, or concerns. However, if there is additional concern about cancer, there is no need to wait until the next scheduled visit, and the doctor should be called as soon as possible. Follow-up intervals should be quarterly for the first two years, and every six months for two years . After five years, annual checks should continue. The follow-up program depends on many factors, such as the type-stage of breast cancer.

The imaging of the breast mammography and breast ultrasound are requested six months after the completion of radiotherapy. If breast-sparing surgery has been performed (lumpectomy or partial mastectomy), a mammogram should be obtained approximately 6-12 months and at least annually after radiation is completed.

In the case of a mastectomy (removal of the entire breast), it no longer needs mammograms on that side. However, it has started to take its place in the interim follow-up protocols with single exposure mammograms. If a single breast is removed, an annual mammogram should be done for the remaining breast.

Blood and imaging tests (such as bone scan, chest X-ray) and other tests are not a standard part of follow-up. That’s because it hasn’t been shown to help women who are being treated for breast cancer live longer. Monitoring of vitamin D deficiency and levels of blood tumor markers such as CA-15-3, CA 27-29 or CEA can be measured to evaluate side effects related to treatments.

If a tumor marker level is high, this can be used to monitor treatment results. Because these levels do not rise in every woman, these tests are not always helpful in monitoring cancer recurrence in the asymptomatic person.

If symptoms, exams, or tests indicate a possible recurrence of the cancer, further imaging tests such as CT, PET, MRI, and bone scan and/or biopsy may be performed.

Since the risk of uterine cancer may increase when hormone medication is taken, a pelvic examination should be performed every year. This risk is very high in women who have gone through menopause. An unusual situation such as postmenopausal vaginal bleeding-spotting, intermenstrual bleeding-spotting or changes in menstruation should be reported to the doctor without delay. Because this may be the first sign of uterine cancer.

Density measurement should be done regularly to monitor bone health when menopause is entered as a result of hormone medication or treatment.