Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center is closely monitoring COVID-19, the vaccine distribution, and the variants. University and health system leaders are working closely with government and public health agencies and continue to follow guidelines from the U.S. Department of State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. Below is some crucial information for our cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.
How does having cancer affect my risk for COVID-19?
Current experience with COVID-19 indicates that older people (particularly over age 60) and people with underlying health conditions, such as cancer, chronic lung disease, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease appear to be at higher risk for significant complications if they contract COVID-19. These complications might include severe lung damage and admission to intensive care, a ventilator, and a higher chance of death.
A suppressed immune system, resulting from either the stress of disease or from medications taken for chronic conditions, can contribute. Many cancer medications also weaken the body’s immune system in the process of killing cancer cells. This makes one more susceptible to contracting any contagious disease or illness, including COVID-19. Extra precautions are especially important at this time. You should follow all Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations.
Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center is part of the University of Miami Health System. All UHealth locations have adapted to the following visitation policy:
- NO VISITORS are allowed to accompany patients in any UHealth facilities – including Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center’s inpatient and outpatient settings.
- Pediatric and end-of-life patients will be allowed 1 visitor at a time. Each of these visitors will be asked the same questions as others before entering the facility, such as travel histories and any possible exposures to people known to have the COVID-19 virus.
- Patients undergoing an outpatient procedure, surgery, or receiving an infusion in an outpatient setting may be dropped off at the entrance of the facility. We will contact drivers when it is time to return to pick up their loved ones. For patients in our hospital, overnight visits will no longer be permitted. Please note: per the CDC’s recommendation, beginning Tuesday, April 7, anyone on the medical campus or any Sylvester or UHealth location should be wearing a surgical mask. All patients entering our inpatient and outpatient facilities will also be provided a mask.
We understand these are difficult guidelines, but please know that we are establishing them with the safety and wellbeing of you, our patients, staff, and our entire community in mind.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe for those undergoing cancer treatment or with compromised immune systems?
Please note: No COVID-19 vaccine studies have been conducted specifically in patients with cancer or hematologic disorders who are receiving chemotherapy or who have compromised immune systems. However, based on studies of other types of vaccines, such as the vaccine for the flu, conducted in patients with these conditions, Sylvester’s care team recommends:
- Always discuss the risks and benefits of a vaccine and when to receive one with your primary hematologist/oncologist.
- If you and your hematologist/oncologist agree that a COVID-19 vaccine would be beneficial, the vaccination is recommended either 2-4 weeks prior to chemotherapy, or following the completion of all chemotherapy courses, after the blood counts have recovered.
- If possible, COVID-19 vaccination should occur 6 months after patients have stopped taking immunosuppressive therapy.
- Transplant patients should follow the most up-to-date guidelines on Hematology.org.
Are some cancer patients more at risk than others?
Oncologists believe that patients with blood malignancies may have the most significant risk. These can include blood cancers such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and multiple myeloma. Patients who have received T-cell therapies, those on active chemotherapy, and patients who have undergone stem cell transplants are also compromised and should be very careful in their contacts with others.
Patients being actively treated (surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation) for non-blood malignancies should also be extremely cautious.
Should I be tested for COVID-19 if I have symptoms?
Call your general healthcare provider for medical advice if you develop a fever and experience symptoms such as persistent coughing. Your primary care doctor and medical team can assess the severity of your symptoms and will offer advice. They can help you decide if you need to go to the emergency room, if you can stay home, or if you need to be tested.
If they advise you to be tested, locations at Marlins Park, C.B. Smith Park, and Hard Rock Stadium provide testing in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Please visit our UHealth COVID-19 information page to read the specific criteria for each location, hours, and contact phone numbers.
If you experience more severe symptoms like severe difficulty breathing, pain, or a feeling of pressure in your chest, confusion, blue lips/face, or any other very concerning symptom, call 9-1-1 immediately.
What if I have already completed cancer treatments?
Even post-treatment, cancer patients, and survivors should be vigilant about exposures. There is no easy way to determine who is immunosuppressed enough to be at higher risk. You should take the same precautions as if you are having active chemotherapy or that you would if your infection-fighting white cells were low. Protect yourself from outside contacts. Please make sure to follow all Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations.
What if someone in my home becomes ill around me, the cancer patient?
You don’t want to ostracize your family, but you also don’t want to catch what they have. Step up your handwashing and social distancing game. Have them sleep in a different room, and wipe down things they touch with bleach wipes. Current federal health suggestions also recommend that affected individuals wear a protective mask, if possible, to further decrease risks for others in the home.
Should I wear a mask or gloves around my family and other people?
The CDC recommends that anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 wears a mask. If you have a clinic appointment, per the CDC’s recommendation, beginning Tuesday, April 7, anyone on the medical campus or any UHealth location should be wearing a surgical mask.
All patients entering our inpatient and outpatient facilities will also be provided a mask. If patients arrive wearing a mask, they can proceed with their own mask. However, if it is a cloth mask, scarf or bandana, we will ask them to remove that face covering and wear a mask provided by our staff.
How will I know if my appointment will take place?
Our providers are reviewing appointments case by case to determine the best method of seeing each patient. You will be informed in advance through your My UHealth Chart if your appointment will take place in-person, by telehealth (video/phone) or rescheduled to a future date. Should you have questions, please contact your provider’s office.
At this time, we are continuing to provide treatments such as chemotherapy infusion, radiation therapy, oral therapies, blood and marrow stem cell transplants, T-cell therapies (including CAR-T therapies), urgent imaging appointments, and Clinical Treatment Unit (CTU) closely monitored care for clinical trial patients.
More routine follow-up appointments have been changed to telehealth sessions. If you are asked to be seen via telehealth, we will work with you in advance to ensure you have the proper computer access needed.
Non-urgent surgeries and procedures will be postponed until later dates.
We appreciate your patience and flexibility so that we can ensure the highest level of care while minimizing risks of potential complications. The risks of receiving cancer therapy are higher now than usual. Patients should discuss their case and the value of proceeding versus delaying any treatments with their cancer provider.
I was told to come for an in-person visit. What should I expect?
Every patient scheduled for an in-person visit will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and will be asked about any recent travel and exposure histories prior to being able to enter our facilities. You should arrive earlier than usual for these extra steps. Thank you for your flexibility, which will help keep you, all patients, staff, and our medical providers safe.
What steps has Sylvester taken to treat COVID-19 patients and protect others?
Our Sylvester team is well-trained in caring for patients with complex health conditions and in infection prevention and control. We have amplified our already-intensive cleaning and disinfecting practices throughout all of our facilities. We are also following social distancing and additional protective recommendations. As detailed above, we have initiated strict screening policies for access to any care location.
Are Cancer Support Services resources available for patients and caregivers?
Even during these challenging times, our experts are here to address your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs before, during, and after cancer treatment.
For easier access to cancer support services for our patients and their caregivers, we are moving many resources online:
- Online Support Groups focusing on a range of topics from caregiver support to site disease group specific sessions.
- Live Cancer Support Services ZOOM sessions that include yoga, spiritual counseling, and art and music therapy. These can be found on our Classes and Events page as well.
- If you are unable to make a live Cancer Support Services session, you can watch a variety of pre-recorded “Cancer Support Services at Home” videos here.
How do I get my cancer prescriptions?
If you are concerned about picking up prescriptions at a pharmacy, many of them now deliver, and you can make those arrangements with your pharmacy. The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Walgreens offers curbside service, as well. You can also communicate with your doctor or request prescription refills through MyUHealthChart.com.
Are Sylvester community events for patients, survivors, and caregivers canceled?
In accordance with CDC guidelines, all in-person community events have been suspended for now, and where possible, online events will be held. Be assured that once it is deemed safe for our community to come together, Sylvester will resume its community events.