I’m A Cancer Patient. Is It Safe to Still Get Treatment During COVID-19?

While it is important to take safety precautions during COVID-19, you should still get cancer treatment if you need it. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has taken many steps to ensure your safety when you come in for care.

“We have safe and effective ways to continue to care for all patients,” says Meghan Baker, MD, ScD, an epidemiologist at Dana-Farber and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

We sat down with Baker to talk precautions that Dana-Farber is taking during this time, and how patients can continue to protect themselves from COVID-19.

Is it safe to come to Dana-Farber?

Dana-Farber is still caring for current patients, accepting new ones, and providing second opinion consultations. In order to continue this high level of care, the Institute has taken tremendous measures to ensure the safety of all patients and staff, such as:

  • COVID-19 screenings: Prior to each visit, patients are screened first over the phone and then once again when they arrive. In addition, all Dana-Farber staff are screened daily.
  • Universal mask policy: All patients and employees are provided a surgical mask when they arrive at Dana-Faber. These masks must be worn throughout their entire time at the Institute.
  • Physical distancing: Everything from infusion chairs to tables in the Lavine Family Dining Pavilion in the Yawkey Center for Cancer Care have been rearranged in order to comply with physical distancing recommendations.
  • Appropriate PPE: All staff have been outfitted with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Limiting foot traffic: Dana-Farber is restricting all incoming business or community visitors. Appointments are being staggered to limit the number of people in each building, ensuring both elevators and waiting rooms are not over-crowded. When medically appropriate, many patient appointments are being done by phone or via videoconference.
  • Additional cleaning: Environmental Services are working around-the-clock to reach every inch of the Institute. Exam rooms are cleaned or wiped down after each use, and “high-touch” areas, including handrails and elevator buttons, are cleaned and disinfected regularly.

All patients should be in constant contact with their care team, and if you are experiencing new symptoms or changes in regard to your cancer, it is important you do not delay care.

In addition, if you are experiencing any symptoms associated with COVID-19, you should report them right away. Even if you have a confirmed case of the coronavirus, there are measures in place to ensure we can care for you that’s safe for you, your care team, and other patients and staff members.

If I’m traveling from out of state, do I need to quarantine for 14 days before coming to Dana-Farber?

All travelers arriving to Massachusetts are instructed by the state to self-quarantine for 14 days. However, this policy does not pertain to those needing medical care. This includes patients of Dana-Farber who are coming from out-of-state to receive cancer treatment.

As previously mentioned, it is important to report if you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or believe you have come in contact with someone who has a confirmed case of the virus. Precautions need to be put in place before you arrive.

Do I still need to take precautions now that states are beginning to ease or altogether lift COVID-19 restrictions?

While there is still much we do not know about SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19 , we do know that many cancer patients, whether they are undergoing active treatment or not, are considered to be at an increased risk for developing more serious complications from an infection.

Limiting face-to-face contact is the best-known way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still encourages everyone to:

  • Practice physical distancing (six feet)
  • Not gather in groups
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when you’re around others
  • Avoid leaving your home unless necessary

The CDC also encourages virtual visits over in-person meetings, especially if one of the participants is considered to be at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 and developing serious symptoms from an infection. If you are meeting someone face-to-face, try to do so outside, make sure you’re wearing a face covering, and maintain social distancing.

In addition, don’t forget to practice proper hand hygiene often, and be sure to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces including tables, light switches, and doorknobs.

When will we be back to pre-COVID-19 activities?

It is still too early to say. Even as the country begins to open back up, things will look very different than they did a year ago.

Despite many promising advancements, there is not yet a fully effective treatment for COVID-19, or a vaccine. Until one is created, there will always be some risk associated with leaving your home. It is also important to remember that even when a vaccine or treatment is approved, it will take time for production to ramp up to meet demand.

This is why it is imperative that everyone continues to take the necessary precautions outlined by the CDC. Practicing physical distancing, along with good personal hygiene, is the best way to prevent yourself, and those around you, from becoming infected.

What should I do if I think I may have COVID-19?

If you think you have COVID-19, it is important to contact your primary care provider and your oncology team. While you will always be able to receive cancer care, you or a family member need to call ahead to Dana-Farber or your treatment center so they can properly prepare for your arrival. You should never ignore emergency warning signs.

Even if you have a confirmed case of COVID-19, you may not need to be hospitalized. Most people with the virus have mild illness and can recover at home without medical care. If this is the case for you, be sure to stay home except when you need to receive medical attention, and do not visit public areas.

The CDC has also created a “Self-Checker” to help you make decisions and seek appropriate medical care. 

Where can I find more information?

Dana-Farber has a dedicated page for information regarding COVID-19, where you can find material specific for patients, caregivers, and even physicians. 

We also recommending consulting resources and guidelines from the CDC, the U.S. Department of State, and the Massachusetts Government.