Coronavirus has now spread to most countries in the world, and only a few have managed to fully eradicate it. Your immediate risk of coming into contact with the virus depends on where you live, with the number of cases varying from region to region. As cases increase and decrease in different areas, your risk of infection will continue to change.
For those with breast cancer, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected just about every aspect of cancer care, including screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care. Only urgent symptomatic cases have been prioritised for diagnostic intervention since the national lockdown was introduced in March, with cancer screening suspended and routine diagnostic work deferred.
Since the coronavirus crisis began, those with a breast cancer diagnosis and those who are at high risk for breast cancer have been put in a uniquely difficult and sometimes frightening position. Without the necessary information, many have been left wondering if
they should postpone their screenings and treatments, or if it’s safest to carry on with these appointments. For others, vital treatment has been altered or delayed whether they like it or not.
How Common Is Breast Cancer?
Breast cancer is the most common invasive cancer in those assigned female at birth. Only around 2.7%, or 1 in 37, of those diagnosed are expected to die from the disease. Thousands of preventable deaths from breast cancer and other cancer types may occur over the next few years, however, as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
People who are currently living with breast cancer – or any other form of cancer – are at a higher risk of developing severe illnesses if they catch the coronavirus. The serious complications associated with Covid-19 may also be of greater risk to those with a history of cancer, but this is not yet known. Lung problems and a weaker immune system can be caused by certain breast cancer treatments including chemotherapy, targeted therapies and immunotherapies, and these have been connected with a higher risk of serious illness from coronavirus.
After you stop receiving targeted therapy or chemotherapy, the immune system will typically recover within a couple of months. Several factors will determine this recovery time, though, so it will vary from person to person. It is not clear if you are at a higher risk for serious complications from Covid-19 if you received these treatments in the past. It is likely that your immune system is weakened and your body at greater risk, however, if you are receiving ongoing treatments with these medicines for metastatic breast cancer.
As has been reported regularly throughout the pandemic, the coronavirus brings a much higher risk of serious complications for those who have weakened immune systems or lung problems. Developing Covid-19 can also be particularly dangerous for those who have breast cancer which has spread (metastasized) to the lungs, as the disease can make these lung problems worse.
People with breast cancer may also be at higher risk of developing Covid-19 complications as they may be more likely to have other risk factors. You may be at greater risk, for example, if you…
- Have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Have a pre-existing heart condition.
- Suffer ill-health as a result of your weight (obesity).
- Have SCD (Sickle Cell Disease), type 2 diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
- Are aged 65 and above.
Breast cancer is likely to develop in 1 in 8 women over the course of their lives, and 1 in 870 men. Exactly how Covid-19 could affect people diagnosed with cancer is not yet clear, as research on Covid-19 and cancer is very limited. Similarly, the impact that different types of cancer could have on Covid-19 outcomes is not yet known.
Can People with Breast Cancer Get Vaccinated for Covid-19?
Yes! Vaccination priority for people with cancer has been recommended by the CDC, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) and other medical groups. In most cases, the Covid-19 vaccines that are currently authorised for emergency use are considered safe and effective for those with cancer or a history of cancer. Before getting vaccinated, though, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor as everyone’s situation is different.
Now that vaccination rollout is in progress throughout the UK, it’s important that everyone – and especially those with cancer diagnoses – gets vaccinated when and if they can to protect themselves and help reduce the spread of the virus. It’s important to listen to health experts who recommend staying at home, limiting contact with others, wearing a mask when you are around people you don’t live with and following other precautions.
The outcomes of adults around the world who have been diagnosed with cancer and infected with Covid-19 are now being tracked to clear up some of the uncertainty by a research project based at Vanderbilt University, the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19). This project has attracted participation from over a hundred different cancer centres and organisations.
Including information on 928 different patients across the US, Spain and Canada who had been diagnosed with both cancer and Covid-19, the first CCC19 was published in the Lancet in May 2020. 20% of the people in this group had been diagnosed with breast cancer, making it the most common cancer in the sample. 30% of the group were older than 75, while half were over 66.
The mortality rate for those involved in the study ended up being about twice the death rate for all people with Covid-19, with about 13% of those involved in the study dying. The same risk factors linked with death in cancer-free Covid-19 cases were identified, such as…
- Having a serious underlying health condition, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or heart problems.
- Men and those assigned male at birth.
- Older age groups.
While visiting your GP might seem especially daunting right now, if you suspect you may have breast cancer, it’s vital that you go and get checked by a medical professional. To learn all about the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, check out The Essential Guide to Breast Cancer from Need2Know Books.