Children with Cancer during Coronavirus
While children with cancer during coronavirus face challenges such as increased social isolation, there is some good news. According to a study led by Andrew Kung, MD, PhD, Chair of MSK Kids and his colleagues at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer, children and teens with cancer are not at higher risk of being affected by COVID-19 than children without cancer. The research also shows that children with cancer who have COVID-19 often have mild symptoms like those of healthy children.
Still Important to Remain Vigilant
Despite the good news, children with cancer and their families shouldn’t be complacent. As states begin to lift restrictions, it’s still important to remain vigilant in your practice to lower the risk of infection. Health officials continue to stress the importance of social distancing and wearing a face covering in public.
There are Many Challenges
Negotiating the health care system for children with cancer during coronavirus can be challenging. Hospitals, medical facilities and doctor’s offices’ new stricter visitation rules allow only one adult visitor at a time. This means that parents/caregivers can’t attend their children’s appointments together. They can’t even visit their child at the same time in the hospital without obtaining special permission. And families face numerous obstacles trying to navigate a host of new rules and safety protocols implemented by medical facilities. This is all happening at a time that’s already distressing. But the good news is that medical professionals and their staff are sensitive to the many challenges patients and their families face.
The medical landscape keeps changing and it can be difficult to know what to expect. It’s important to remember that many medical facilities have reduced the number of staff working on site and many have staff working remotely. Prepare yourself because this may cause delays in real-time response and electronic portal updates. Reduced staff also contributes to uncertainly as to when tests can be performed or results reported. During this challenging time, it’s particularly important to advocate for your child and schedule appointments as quickly as possible.
Childhood Cancer Treatment Doesn’t Stop
And while others can postpone elective surgeries or push out routine doctor visits, this doesn’t mean childhood cancer treatment stops. Children with cancer still have to get to treatment and critical follow-up oncology visits. This puts additional strain on families who may already be nervous about leaving their homes and risking exposure.
There is some positive additions, though. When it isn’t medically necessary to attend an appointment in-person, doctors have the ability to conduct the appointment electronically. Technology can bring doctor visits into our homes as we engage in telehealth appointments. Despite the fact that the visit may be a little less personable, you don’t have to negotiate the challenges of an in person visit.
Many pediatric cancer patients already avoid crowds and stay home due to their weakened immune system. The decrease in social interaction imposed by COVID-19 can make children feel even more alone and isolated. Since social interaction has been significantly reduced or eliminated, technology has become increasingly more important. Electronics like those provided by Mikey’s Way help bridge the social interaction gap. They allow children to interface with their friends through a variety of social media and gaming platforms.
Stay in Touch with your Child’s Healthcare Team
It is important during this unprecedented time to stay in communication with your child’s health care team. Talk to them if you have questions or concerns, especially if your child or a family member have new symptoms or were recently exposed to someone who is ill.
- American Cancer Society – answers to common questions about the Coronavirus outbreak.
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – recommendations on how to protect you and your child.
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – use of cloth face coverings help slow the spread of COVID-19
- Children’s Oncology Group – COVID-19 information sheet for parents of children with cancer. There is also information for childhood cancer survivors.
- For more information about Dr. Kung’s research visit the May 13 issue of JAMA Oncology or Cancer Health.