Colorectal Cancer and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Fight CRC is keeping this webpage on Colorectal Cancer and Coronavirus (COVID-19) updated regularly with the latest updates and expert resources that survivors and their families need to know.

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We know that there is a lot of attention right now on the new coronavirus (COVID-19), and want you to know that we are here for you. Unfortunately, coronavirus poses an extra risk for colorectal cancer patients due to the immunosuppressive treatments they receive. As the spread of coronavirus occurs throughout the world, researchers, public health officials, and individuals all play a role in slowing the spread of the virus in order to protect colon and rectal cancer patients, cancer patients at large, and any other vulnerable population.

Preparedness and awareness are paramount in these times. We’ve compiled information from the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about steps to take in an effort to keep you and your loved ones healthy. Read on to find out what colorectal cancer patients should know about coronavirus.

Guidelines Update, April 24, 2020 – On April 16, the White House released new guidelines for Opening Up America Again in light of coronavirus (COVID-19). Phase 1 recommends “all vulnerable individuals continue to shelter in place.” Previous guidance from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recommended limited non-essential surgeries and medical procedures; however new guidelines recommend a gradual transition and encourage health care providers to coordinate with local and state public health officials, and to review the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies, workforce availability, facility readiness, and testing capacity when making the decision to re-start or increase in-person care. The new recommendations are specifically targeted to communities that are in Phase 1, with low incidence or relatively low and stable incidence of COVID-19 cases.

How does COVID-19 Affect My Cancer Treatment?

We understand that our community may have many questions about how the coronavirus will affect their treatment plans, from surgery to chemotherapy/immunotherapy, clinical trials and maintenance therapy, and even screening. We spent some time discussing how COVID-19 affects treatment with our medical experts.

Colorectal Cancer Screening Delays

Many Americans are facing decisions about their cancer screening and prevention schedule. According to the American Cancer Society, Dr. Rich Wender, Chief Cancer Control Officer for the ACS, stated:

“The American Cancer Society recommends that no one should go to a health care facility for routine cancer screening at this time…Remember, these screening tests save lives. When restrictions lift, it’s important to reschedule any screening test that you’re due to receive…Getting back on track with cancer screening should be a high priority.” 

This statement does not refer to individuals who are being screened for cancer recurrence or who are being screened as a diagnostic measure due to signs and symptoms of CRC. Talk to your doctor if you have a screening scheduled in the near future.

Do colorectal cancer patients have an increased risk of contracting Coronavirus?

Anyone can get the new coronavirus, but cancer patients and survivors have an increased risk of complications and severe events from coronavirus due to treatments that suppress the immune system.

Additionally, people over age 60 and people with comorbidities (such as diabetes, heart disease, etc) who contract coronavirus are at an increased risk of complications. According to a recent ASCO article the steps cancer patients and survivors (whether in treatment or not) should take to avoid coronavirus are the same for the general public.

What about the flu?

The new coronavirus is not something to be compared to influenza; however, it is important to recognize that the steps we are taking to limit the spread of COVID-19 are the same steps we should be taking each year to limit the spread of the flu. Check out this Q&A from the CDC about the flu and cancer patients, and then read Fight CRC’s blog.

What is social distancing and should I be doing it? What else can I do to reduce my risk of contracting COVID-19? 

The CDC recommends social distancing and describes it as “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance” whenever possible to limit the ability of the virus to spread. If you do go outside, remain at least 6 feet apart from anyone you are not living with to minimize exposure. 

Specific treatments or vaccines have not been developed yet, and the data on how this specifically affects colorectal cancer patients is limited. For these reasons, it’s important for colorectal cancer patients, survivors, and the general public to continue social distancing efforts – especially as many people show no symptoms of being infected and can unknowingly pass the virus along to others.

  • Follow the guidance on travel restrictions issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, about the amount of time it would take to hum the “Happy Birthday” twice. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • If you must cough or sneeze, use a tissue. Then throw the tissue away and wash your hands. Or, cough or sneeze into your elbow rather than your hand.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Clean frequently touched objects and surfaces with household cleaning spray or wipes. These surfaces and objects include doorknobs, counters, toilets, keyboards, tablets, phones, and more.
  • The CDC has advised that everyone (except infants) wear a cloth face-covering in public places where social distancing measures cannot be maintained. They have not recommended the use of surgical masks or N-95 respirators – these are critical supplies that should be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.

When should I call the doctor?

If you think you may have been infected with COVID-19 (through travel or contact with a person known to have COVID-19), call your doctor if you have a fever and/or other symptoms such as a cough or shortness of breath.

Fight CRC’s partnership with the Cancer Support Community hotline has temporarily extended its hours during this crisis, and staff is prepared to answer questions about coronavirus and coping with social isolation. This is a free call line available in English and Spanish, which offers translation services for more than 200 languages. Live assistance is available from 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. ET Saturday and Sunday. TOLL-FREE LINE: 1-877-427-2111

How can I manage my anxiety?

Anxiety is often described as a feeling of unease, worry, or fear, and it truly is a natural human response to a threat – and the new coronavirus is certainly a threat.

Anxiety focuses our attention on problem-solving and kicks off our innate “fight or flight” reaction. For many people, occasional emotions of anxiety and panic are not a result of an underlying anxiety disorder. If you are feeling anxious – don’t feel bad about it and don’t ignore it! It may be a good idea to focus on reducing those feelings through action and putting your attention on preparedness instead.

Find Fight CRC’s series of health and wellness resources to care for your mental health during coronavirus. 

Support Programs for Colorectal Cancer Survivors During COVID-19

  • The COVID-19 Emergency Food Assistance Program – In collaboration with Team Rubicon (TR) and Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF), this program provides assistance to immunocompromised patients living with cancer, multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis whose ability to access or afford food and other nutritional needs is at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information and to apply: https://teamrubiconusa.org/applynow/

Additional Resources for CRC Survivors

Curated resources and information from the leading organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

A collection of health and wellness resources, webinars, podcasts, and blogs to support you and your family during this challenging time for many cancer survivors. 

COVID-19 and Colorectal Cancer

During these unprecedented times, Fight CRC remains committed to our mission and continues to support our community by providing helpful and trustworthy resources for all those affected by colorectal cancer. Your generosity today will make us stronger tomorrow.