World Lung Cancer Day that is observed on August 1 throughout the world, targeted towards informing and educating people about lung cancer, its prevention, early detection, and treatment. It is commemorated by The American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST), alongside members of the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) to celebrate and support those impacted by lung cancer. Lung cancer continues to be one of the most common cancers diagnosed worldwide, affecting, and claiming more lives yearly than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. According to current statistics, lung cancer accounts for nearly one in five cancer deaths globally. Although the incidence of lung cancer has gradually increased over the years, yet it still remains preventable by avoiding tobacco products, breathing clean air free of harmful industrial and carcinogenic components and having a well-balanced nutritious diet.
This year with the ongoing crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an unprecedented challenge to health and epidemic prevention system, especially the healthcare of patients with cancer. Patients with lung cancer have consistently been reported to suffer from an increased risk of getting diagnosed with Covid-19 and even a steep rise in deaths compared with other forms of cancer. Foray through this article to know more about the relation between Covid-19 infection and lung cancer.
What Is The Connection Between Covid-19 And Lung Cancer?
Lung Cancer mainly occurs due to the uncontrolled proliferation of cells within the lung cavity. While smoking is the primary attributing factor, it can affect non-smokers as well. Some of the common symptoms of lung cancer involve persistent cough, difficulty in breathing, acute discomfort in chest, headache etc.
SARS-CoV-2 is an upper respiratory tract infection that chiefly causes irritation and inflammation of the airway mucosa, which deteriorates with time to infect the lungs. This results in severe inflammation of the alveoli and surrounding tissues, associated with fluid build-up within the lung cavity which can ultimately impede the transfer of oxygen to the cells, resulting in coughing and shortness of breath and developing into a severe form of pneumonia.
Recent research shows that both COVID-19 and lung cancer share common symptoms, diagnostic criteria and management, hence making it further challenging to diagnose coronavirus in lung cancer patients.
Who Are At Risk?
Lung cancer itself is unlikely to increase the risk of coronavirus complications, however many lung cancer patients are older and frail, having underlying lung disease, and decreased lung capacity. Risk factors for COVID-19 include those with lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those being treated for cancer. These patients are certainly at a higher precedence of getting sicker should they develop pulmonary complications of coronavirus. Even patients undergoing lung cancer treatment who are immunosuppressed from chemotherapy or other forms of therapy are more likely to be infected with the virus and develop severe complications.
How Does Covid-19 Impact People With Lung Cancer?
Among the various patient groups affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ongoing crisis has presented aggravated risks and challenges for patients suffering from lung cancer. This populace is considered high risk in terms of worse illness severity and complications related to COVID-19 infection, and patients who become infected need to make certain rearrangements in terms of treatment. Since many patients are at high risk of exposure to infection whilst accessing healthcare for diagnostics and treatment and oncological therapies, so they either have to delay their return visits, or postpone admission to medical care facilities or discontinue or delay their regular anticancer treatments. Additionally, there may be difficulty differentiating between certain symptoms of lung cancer or treatment-induced pneumonitis 2 and symptoms of pneumonia secondary to COVID-19, leading to further diagnostic delays.
How To Prevent Coronavirus In Lung Cancer Patients?
The primary course of treatment for coronavirus in people with lung cancer is same as any, i.e., social distancing, especially in areas that are hot zones for infection, wearing masks, using rigorous hand hygiene practice and other preventive measures.
Additionally, several oncologists and surgeons have also modified treatment plans for lung cancer patients. These include:
- Limiting the number of times cancer patients have to go to the clinic or the hospital
- Limiting or avoiding treatments that may suppress the immune system
- Substituting telemedicine visits for in-person clinic visits to physically staying away from medical professionals
Although there are several ongoing studies, yet there are no tested and approved medical interventions for coronavirus and lung cancer at this point. One approved treatment for lung cancer patients is immunotherapy to boost an anti-cancer response, but there are no researches to confirm whether these drugs facilitate or inhibit the body's ability to fight off the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Can People With Lung Cancer Or Survivors Get Covid-19 Vaccine?
According to government guidelines, both patients with cancer and survivors of cancer can take the vaccine unless there are specific contraindications but they should certainly get prior approval from their treating doctors to evaluate the risks and benefits.