Coronavirus and Breast Cancer as a simultaneous diagnosis would be serious, of course. However, Altiora feels we might need some factual clarity on this matter. You see, the risks of coronavirus for breast cancer patients has caused confusion, anxiety and nightmares. This is true for not only breast cancer patients but even breast cancer survivors.
Dr. Orlando Cicilioni specializes in reconstruction surgery for many breast cancer patients. And certainly, they are very dear to our hearts here at Altiora Plastic Surgery & Medspa. Therefore, we dedicate this blog article those who are afflicted with breast cancer during this difficult time.
In this blog article, we hope to set the record straight with some of the latest research about the risks of complications if a breast cancer patient contracts the coronavirus disease, COVID-19.
A Little Backstory: Coronavirus Confusion
According to the American Cancer Society, “The global pandemic of the coronavirus disease, called COVID-19, continues to have a serious impact on many…” This includes “cancer patients, their families, and caregivers.”
Likewise, coronavirus news reports are very disturbing. It is disconcerting that we have seen “State and local authorities, as well as health officials, continue to adjust their recommendations as the number of COVID-19 cases changes in different parts of the country.”
We receive Coronavirus facts and figures every day. Inspite of this, we seem to lose track of one major fact. As the American Cancer Society added, “Most people infected with the COVID-19 virus will have mild to moderate respiratory symptoms and recover without requiring special treatment or hospitalization. Some will have no symptoms at all.” When speaking of breast cancer patients, we need to clarify two major points:
- Diagnosed with breast cancer? This is not an “automatic” risk of complications if you do contract COVID-19. Let us repeat that. These are the words of experts at the Breast Cancer. Org website. “It’s important to know that being diagnosed with breast cancer doesn’t automatically increase your risk of having serious complications if you do get COVID-19.”
- However, where confusion occurs is that breast cancer patients with immune systems disorders or lung disease, “may be at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19.”
- Sometimes breast cancer patients’ treatments can actually cause them to have a weakened immune system. Therefore, they might have more risk if they did catch COVID-19 from the coronavirus.
Breast Cancer Treatments and the Coronavirus
Just in case you do not know, we want you to understand that the following breast cancer treatments “can cause weakening of the immune system:”
1. All of the standard chemotherapy drugs can have this immunocompromising effect. For example, your doctor could have prescribed Taxol (chemical name: paclitaxel), Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel), Cytoxan (chemical name: cyclophosphamide), or carboplatin. If so then we advise you to take extra precautions to guard against infection. (We are talking about hand-washing, safe-distancing, masking and avoiding crowds.)
2. We also include certain targeted therapies that can weaken your immune system. So, beware if you take Ibrance (chemical name: palbociclib), Kisqali (chemical name: ribociclib), Verzenio (chemical name: abemaciclib), or Piqray (chemical name: alpelisib)
Immune System Recovery
Likewise, be aware that your immune system can recover from these therapies. Usually that takes about two months after discontinuing the therapy. However, remember that every breast cancer case is unique. Therefore, expect recovery times to vary from one individual to the next. We have two points for you to remember in this regard.
First of all, just because you had treatments previous to the present time, it does not mean you are definitively “at higher risk for serious complications from COVID-19.”
Second is a caution. If you are in “current “treatment with these medicines for metastatic breast cancer, it’s likely that your immune system is weakened.” So, Altiora Plastic Surgery & Medspa asks you to take extra precautions to avoid possibility of COVID-19 infections.
Chemotherapy and Your Lungs
Are you aware that some chemotherapy medicines and targeted therapies can actually also instigate lung problems? Those lung problems could put you at a higher risk level. This is a higher risk, not just for catching COVID-19, but for developing serious complications.
We caution you that “Rare but severe lung inflammation has been linked” to several drugs. Those include “Ibrance, Kisqali, Verzenio, and the immunotherapy drug Tecentriq (chemical name: atezolizumab).”
Understandably, if you have metastatic breast cancer in your lungs, your lung problems could increase if you catch COVID-19.
Other Factors That Influence Serious Complications from the Coronavirus
Vanderbilt University has been gathering clinical data to analyze the consequences of COVID-19 for patients with cancer.
Some breast cancer patients have other factors in common that cause them to develop serious complications from COVID-19. Below is a list of those factors that put them at greater risk:
- Are you age 65 or older?
- Have you been diagnosed with COPD?
- Do you have a serious heart condition?
- Are you a type 2 diabetic?
- Do you have a chronic kidney disease, or sickle cell disease?
- Are you overweight?
- Are you a male?
Research on coronavirus and cancer is still limited. So, many experts are unsure or unclear about the effect of COVID-19 on cancer patients. The Vanderbilt study is ongoing. There are more than 100 different medical facilities participating. “Breast cancer was the most common cancer in the group, affecting about 20% of the people. Half the people were older than 66, and 30% were older than 75.”
13% of the over 900 people in the initial study died. However, that is double the death rate for all people with COVID-19. The researchers reached this conclusion. “A higher risk of dying for people with both cancer and COVID-19 was linked to the same risk factors for people without cancer who get COVID-19…” These factors are listed in the question-style list above.
Two More Valuable Conclusions: Risky Business of Having Cancer and Coronavirus
Additionally, the researchers also discovered two other important risk factors “that were unique to the people diagnosed with cancer.” Therefore, your risk of complications is greater if you have active (measurable) growing cancer, or if your tests show “a poor ECOG performance status score. This measures a person with cancer’s ability to function, care for themselves, and engage in physical activity.”
The risk of COVID-19 death does not seem to be affected by the type of cancer or treatments. Cancer and simultaneous COVID-19 only increased the probability of incurring complications as stated above. Coronavirus is not a death sentence. Not even for breast cancer patients.
Undergoing breast cancer treatments? You could be concerned about your ability to overcome COVID-19. If so, share the concern with the healthcare team. We don’t want your anxiety to interfere with your ability to fight the cancer.
Take great care with your COVID-19 precautions. Be Safe. And if you know someone with breast cancer, please pass this information on to them.