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World Cancer Day: COVID-19 And Breast Cancer

World Cancer Day is observed every year on 4 February. It is a global uniting initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). The theme for World Cancer Day 2021 is I Am and I Will.

World Cancer Day was established on 4 February 2000 at the World Cancer Summit Against Cancer for the New Millenium. In 2016, World Cancer Day initiated a three-year campaign under the tagline of 'We can. I can.', which explored the power of collective and individual actions to reduce the impact of cancer. At least 60 governments officially observe World Cancer Day [1].

Researchers and health experts are ardently focused on studying the novel coronavirus, where new findings and understanding help in the better management of the diseases, and also pave way for a possible effective vaccine.

By focusing on the reported symptoms and risk factors, researchers are carrying out symptoms-related studies, where factors such as obesity, smoking, diabetes, air pollution etc. have been explored. Recently, researchers have explored the link between COVID-19 and breast cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common type of non-skin cancer. In India alone, more than 1 million cases of breast cancer are reported every year. According to the most recent report, around 252, 710 new diagnoses are expected in women, and around 40,610 women are likely to die from the disease [2].

Breast cancer is not exclusive to women, as it can affect men too. More than 9,500 people seek breast cancer care each year and nearly 1,500 people undergo breast cancer surgery each year [3].


People With Breast Cancer May Have A Higher Risk Of COVID-19 Complications

According to reports, the symptoms of the coronavirus infection may be more severe in a person with breast cancer [4]. A person undergoing cancer treatment will have a weakened immune system, as a result of the treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapies, immunotherapy, and radiation [5][6].

In most people, a weakened immune system can regenerate and recover with a few months time. So, people who are currently undergoing cancer treatment and people who completed it very recently are at increased risk of infection [7]. In addition to this, people who require hospital visits for treatment are also at an increased risk due to the possible exposure to patients suffering from the coronavirus infection.


Risks Related To COVID-19 And Breast Cancer

Here are the other ways that breast cancer can increase risks associated with the new coronavirus.

  • Elevation of risks associated with coronavirus infection - reportedly more in people with breast cancer that has spread to the lungs [8].
  • Lack of prescription drug availability, that is, some people may have difficulty getting palliative prescriptions.
  • Isolation because people with breast cancer may need to isolate themselves to reduce the risk of spreading the virus [9].
  • Delay in surgeries and treatment.

Precautions For People With Breast Cancer

  • Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap [10]. Especially before eating, after using the bathroom, before touching the face, after any contact with people outside of one's household and after touching any public surfaces [11].
  • If any symptoms of COVID-19 such as fever, a dry cough, and difficulty breathing, contact a doctor immediately.
  • Stay home whenever possible and if a hospital visit is necessary, call ahead and inform.
  • Call a doctor immediately if you develop symptoms of an infection, such as a fever or a persistent cough, have trouble breathing, chest pain, or shortness of breath and cancer symptoms worsening [12].


On A Final Note…

Currently, there is no detailed information on the link between COVID-19 and breast cancer. Researchers are investigating its impact on people with breast cancer. Coronavirus infection can be severe for a person who is receiving treatment for cancer, and they are at an increased risk of developing COVID-19 due to weakened immune system.

To protect yourself and help reduce the spread of the virus, it is important to listen to health experts who recommend staying at home, limiting contact with others, and following other precautions.