There are a lot of questions about access to treatment. Having spoken to patients, we have compiled and answered the most commonly asked questions below:
I am currently receiving treatment – how will the virus impact me?
Your treatment team will speak to you if your treatment needs to be changed or paused due to the COVID-19 virus. Some treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy to your lungs, may be considered to present a higher risk to your health than the possible benefits of controlling your cancer by having the treatments.
We recognise this may cause you worry and distress. Your treatment team will speak to you about the important factors on which they base their recommended changes including:
- Your cancer, its stage and the way it may spread
- Your general health and ability to cope with treatment
- The impact of any treatment on your immune system
- Your risk of developing COVID-19 and the risk it would pose to your health
If you are on immunotherapy or a targeted therapy, such as a TKI (tyrosine kinase inhibitor), your treatment may be unchanged, or it may just be reduced. Your medical team will speak to you about how the treatment may affect your immune system (which protects us from infection) and the best ways to keep your health stable. This will help you agree a treatment plan.
It may be that your follow up is delayed or carried out by phone or video consultation.
If you receive details of an appointment, please check the day before that it is still taking place, especially if you are being asked to attend for treatment.
I have recently been diagnosed with lung cancer – what does this mean for me?
Having a lung cancer diagnosis can be a stressful experience. The way things are just now, you may find your concerns and worries are more acute. You may find it hard to connect with the professional and family support that you would normally expect.
The NHS is making efforts to adapt diagnosis and treatment services to be able to support people as well as prioritise their safety and wellbeing. You may find more of your appointments are by telephone.
Some tests will be delayed or avoided if:
- They put you at increased risk of COVID-19 exposure, and
- Your treatment can be planned with the current information available to your clinical team.
Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments may be postponed or delayed. This decision will be made with your health as the priority. The treatment team will discuss the options available to you are and why they are recommending the current plan. The benefit of treatment may not have changed, but a high risk of COVID-19 illness may mean the treatment is no longer safe for you.
Cancer treatment staff, intensive care staff and other resources may be reduced or not available, and it may not be possible to provide you with the service or treatment that you were expecting.
I have recently completed treatment – how will I be followed up?
You may find that follow-up appointments, scans or tests are postponed or cancelled. This is to reduce your risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus on your way to the appointment, or at the hospital or clinic itself.
We realise that changes to your treatment plan may make you more worried. If you have new or changing symptoms, or side effects that are different, please contact your lung cancer team for advice. It may be more difficult to phone or contact a member of the team just now, but they will try to reply to you as soon as they can.
What if I have recently had lung cancer surgery?
If you are currently recovering from lung surgery, you would be considered in an “at-risk” group.
If you had surgery more than a year ago, you may still be more at risk, particularly if your breathing and lungs are not working well and / or you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or another lung disease. Social distancing is recommended.
What if I am on, or was hoping to join, a clinical trial?
The impact of the virus means that many clinical trials have been paused and are not recruiting new participants. Where a trial does not need additional clinical input or hospital attendance, it may be able to continue. If you are currently on a trial, the team will contact you if there are any immediate or planned changes to your treatment plan.
Research efforts are currently focusing on how to detect and treat COVID-19. There is also work being done to identify a vaccine and understand how to improve human resistance to the virus.
Data is being gathered on how people with lung cancer, other cancers and other respiratory conditions respond to the virus and what are the best treatment options.
What if I am currently being investigated for lung cancer?
If your family doctor (GP) or health care teams suspects that you might have lung cancer, you may be referred for tests such as a chest x-ray or CT scan or for an investigative procedure such as a bronchoscopy. If you are currently going through such investigations, this can be a worrying and uncertain time.
Your tests or investigations may be postponed or changed because of how the virus is affecting your local treatment centre or national services. Wherever possible, your healthcare teams will re-arrange these tests and procedures so that delays are kept to a minimum. Please consult your doctor or healthcare team for advice.
What is being done about the virus?
This is an unexpected situation that is affecting communities around the whole world. There is work going on nationally and internationally to find the best ways to bring this outbreak under control.
Additional resources and guidance are being continually developed for the NHS to support cancer patients and the general public.
There is currently no vaccine for this form of coronavirus as is available to help protect people against the more recognised influenza virus. Research into such a vaccine is being fast tracked but it is likely to take many months. The scientific community is putting every effort into to finding a vaccine that will help protect people everywhere against this coronavirus.