Questions for COVID-19: Should Cancer Patients Attend Appointments?


In a period of unprecedented changes, it is understandable that people may question what their lives may look like moving forward. COVID-19 has now spread to 196 countries and territories worldwide. But its impact is especially pressing for medical patients and their families who are seeking to understand what medical care can be received. Cancer patients, who are immunocompromised, are considered more at-risk for developing infections or other illnesses.

So it stands to reason that patients and their families must proceed with caution when pursuing treatment options or attending appointments. But in a time of uncertainty, a few questions are starting to arise: should cancer patients be attending appointments? What implications does this have for future treatment?

Cancer and Patient Needs

Patient Stories

Janet Glass, 72, gets three days of chemotherapy bi-weekly as treatment for her late stage pancreatic cancer. Even though her side effects include dehydration, dizziness, and low-grade fever, Glass appreciates her medical team and their work. But due to the potential complications from COVID-19, Janet’s chemotherapy appointments have been canceled. She states:

“I knew they were canceling elective surgeries…but chemo is something else.”

Ruth Egan, 69, shares a similar worry. Ruth has myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), a progressive condition that prevents the body from producing enough blood cells. About 50% of the time, MDS turns into acute myeloid leukemia. Read more about MDS here. 

During Ruth’s last medical appointment, her doctor recommended that she stop chemotherapy for a month. If she came to the hospital and contracted COVID-19, there was a large chance that she would be more negatively impacted. She worries that her condition will progress and get worse without chemotherapy, but that visiting the hospital could expose her to the virus. Which is the better option?


According to the Fred Hutch Center, cancer patients with scheduled appointments should keep and attend the appointments. However, clinicians are clear that any patients with symptoms of COVID-19 should postpone their appointments and instead reach out to their doctors to form a plan.

Because cancer patients have a weakened immune system, contracting COVID-19 could result in a more severe illness.

Dr. Wui-Jin Koh says that:

“Once someone is in treatment, it’s almost always a bad decision to stop in the middle.”

However, similar to Janet and Ruth, many patients are now experiencing cancellations, rescheduling, or other issues that can keep them from receiving treatment. This extends past cancer patients, as patients who need dialysis are also experiencing issues.

Appointments: Yes or No?

Ultimately, there is no concrete answer to this question. Patients with non-essential appointments should reschedule. Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society also states that there are additional options:

“This may involve non-urgent follow up visits or talking to your care team virtually.”

To create the best and most effective course of action, it is important to stay in touch with your cancer care team. They can help you to decide whether or not an appointment is necessary or if you may be able to receive treatment in a different way.

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn

Jessica Lynn has an educational background in writing and marketing. She firmly believes in the power of writing in amplifying voices, and looks forward to doing so for the rare disease community.

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