Cancer patients must take extra care during Covid

The oncology unit at Red Cross War Memorial children’s hospital.

The CHOC Childhood Cancer Foundation is urging parents not to be deterred by Covid-19 in having their children examined if they present early warning signs for cancer.

CHOC regional manager Lynette Muthuray says children undergoing cancer treatment have a weakened immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off infection, especially Covid-19.

“Thus it is very important for the family members and the patient to adhere to Covid-19 protocols and apply physical distancing as the treatment process reduces your child’s immunity and ability to fight off germs,” she says.

Head of haematology and oncology at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, Professor Alan Davidson, says they have not seen a decline in patients coming for cancer treatment. “The hospital sees on average 102 patients per year, 92 patients in 2019 and 105 patients came last year,” he says.

However, Groote Schuur Hospital, which treats adult cancer patients, has seen a 20% decline in patients for the past year, according to the head of the oncology unit, Professor Jeanette Parkes. She attributes this to cancer patients being fearful that they are not getting access to biopsies as well as imaging and surgical procedures because of Covid-19.

Professor Parks recommends that all their adult cancer patients receive the vaccine. “There is no danger, but it may be less effective because of other cancer drugs taken at the same time so timing between chemo needs to be taken into consideration,” she says.

According to CHOC, the early warning signs for cancer in children can be summarised with the acronym, Siluan.

S – Seek: Medical help early for persistent symptoms.

I – Eye: White spot in the eye, new squint, blindness, bulging eyeball.

L – Lump: Abdomen and pelvis, head and neck, limbs, testes, glands.

U – Unexplained: Fever for over two weeks, loss of weight and appetite, pallor, fatigue, easy bruising or bleeding.

A – Aching: Bones, joints, back, and easy fractures.

N – Neurological signs: Change or deterioration in walk, balance or speech, regression of milestones, headache for more than a week with or without vomiting, enlarging head.

Ms Muthuray says children and teens with cancer and their families should protect themselves further during Covid-19.

• Physical distancing, wearing a mask, good nutrition, washing hands often with soap and water.

• Avoid contact with anybody with symptoms of Covid-19.

• Stay at home, except when going to the hospital for treatment or check-ups.

• No gatherings of family or friends at home, no school attendance.

• Wear a mask at all times when leaving home.

Contact the CHOC hotline at 0800 333 555 during office hours or visit https://choc.org.za/ .