During the COVID-19 pandemic, men with prostate cancer face a lot of complicated questions regarding their healthcare and best practices for their daily lives. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recently released a guideline for prostate cancer patients during COVID-19. To help break it down, ZERO sat down with Dr. Alicia Morgans, Associate Professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, to discuss some key takeaways for prostate cancer patients to consider.
Now Versus Later
First and foremost, Dr. Morgans emphasized the importance of limiting people’s interactions with the healthcare system. This involves deciding which treatments are urgent right now versus what can be postponed to a later, safer date.
“It’s really critical for us to prioritize what needs to happen now and what can be safely deferred until a little bit later,” Dr. Morgans said. “For example, things like routine biopsies on active surveillance can probably be delayed for a few months, and can resume later in the summer when we hope things quiet down.”
Making the distinction between urgent and non-urgent treatment is a very personal conversation between patient and practitioner. Aggressive cases and high-risk patients certainly require frequent medical attention; however, Dr. Morgans pointed out data that shows certain treatments can be delayed for up to six months without losing any ground.
“It’s important to remember that, for example, just because you receive a cancer diagnosis right now does not mean that there is an emergent situation to get it removed right now — especially if it’s safer to do it later,” she said.
If you are unsure about the risk/benefit ratios of your own personal treatment options, make sure you have these conversations with your physician.
Contracting COVID-19 Versus Developing Complications
Many people seem to think that having prostate cancer puts you at higher risk for contracting COVID-19. A more important thing to consider, however, is that upon contracting COVID-19, cancer patients have a much higher risk of developing life-threatening complications.
“When people with cancer get COVID-19, they could be at higher risk of having a complication from a COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Morgans explained. “If you do have COVID-19, it’s really critical to be in touch with your doctor, communicate that you’re not feeling well, and understand when you potentially need to go to a hospital for more of an assessment.”
Dr. Morgans said that this risk applies to those with a history of cancer as well as those undergoing active treatment. Because of this, prostate cancer patients and survivors should get tested for COVID-19 so that they are aware of being at-risk for further complications.
Right now, there are so many myths going around about COVID-19, particularly regarding who is most affected by it. Everyone is at risk of contracting COVID-19, but the disease poses unique threats for cancer patients once they’ve contracted it. Making this distinction is extremely important in managing life during this pandemic.
Importance of Physical Distancing
COVID-19 has introduced a new normal to public life: face masks, gloves, elbow bumps in lieu of handshakes, etc. While these are all great safety practices and are encouraged by the medical community, Dr. Morgans doubled down on the importance of avoiding physical interaction with people whenever possible.
“Staying away from other people physically is really important,” she said. “We don’t know whether someone could have an infection or not.”Since so many cases of COVID-19 are asymptomatic, any situation that involves being around others poses a threat of exposure. While face masks and other preventative measures lower the risk of spreading the infection, they are not 100% protective.
The safest option is to maintain a safe amount of physical distance — six-plus feet at least — and to avoid venturing into potentially crowded areas altogether. Virtual communication, namely telehealth service, is the best way to receive medical attention without putting yourself in harm’s way.
Click here to watch the entire interview with ZERO’s VP of Patient Programs and Advocacy Patrice Brown and Dr. Alicia Morgans.