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What’s the Risk of COVID-19 for Breast Cancer Patients?

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Published on August 31, 2020

Understanding Coronavirus and Breast Cancer Risks

Where should breast cancer patients get the latest coronavirus (COVID-19) information to know how to stay safe when they are in public? Patient Power host, Megan-Claire Chase sits down with Shonte Drakeford, patient advocate and a representative from the Tigerlily Foundation, and experts Dr. Shaveta Vinayak, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Dr. Catherine Park, UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Dr. Freya Schnabel, NYU Lagone Health to discuss how breast cancer patients can protect themselves during the coronavirus outbreak and where to find updated and current information.

This is Part 5 from our Breast Cancer Answers Now Live Program. Watch the other parts below:

This program is supported by an educational grant from Daiichi Sankyo. This organization has no editorial control. It is produced by Patient Power and Patient Power is solely responsible for program content.

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Transcript | What’s the Risk of COVID-19 for Breast Cancer Patients?

Dr. Vinayak:
There's a lot of work being done by many national, international organizations around COVID-19 and cancer specifically, and trying to understand the sort of short term, long-term risks for survivors. Are they still at risk for getting serious COVID-19 compared to the general population? I'm sure lots of institutions here are part of those registries, we're specifically working with ASCO, which is the American Society of Clinical Oncology, a national organization. And then there's also the COVID-19 Cancer Consortium, and all of these questions are being currently looked at. So I think there's a lot to learn about this in the future.

Dr. Schnabel:
And I think what that question allows us to talk about maybe for a minute or two, is the idea that for patients under active treatment, who are immunocompromised at that point. And maybe someone will want to comment on who are undergoing immunotherapies and so on, there does seem to be some very specific vulnerability of that population of patients if they become infected with the coronavirus.

Dr. Vinayak:
So, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, we all kind of hypothesize. We think that those are going to be the main culprits that affect the immune system and put patients at the highest risk for a serious COVID-19 related illness. But as I alluded to, I don't think we have any specific answers. We haven't delved deep enough in those registries where all of this data is being collected to know if our hypothesis is actually correct. So, we think, "Yeah, maybe if you had chemotherapy just within the last few weeks and your immune system is down, that could put you at higher risk." Immunotherapy, we think the same thing. I don't think endocrine therapy or the hormone-blocking agents compromise the immune system, so we don't think that patients are at higher risk when they're getting those therapies. But we really need to sort of delve deeper into these large national, international registries where this data is being collected and analyze that further to get us a better answer on all of this.

Dr. Park:
These are all areas of active research right now in the broad oncologic community. I think for radiation, just a very early case report type things we're looking at, or as people have active cough and infection in their lungs are already compromised, so we don't want to add more inflammation with radiation. So, those are some of the scenarios that have been reported on in terms of more far-reaching immunocompromise, that we really need more time and more data to see what that shows. But we're fairly conservative at this point.

Dr. Schnabel:
ASCO has also issued some guidelines about different types of therapies, including anthracyclines and so on, specific breast cancer-related drugs and their use during the pandemic because of concerns about patients who may be made more vulnerable. So, these are issues that I think are really current and ongoing issues.


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