Does CML make me more at risk for COVID-19?
If you are living with or care for someone with CML, it is understandable that you are finding the current global COVID-19 pandemic challenging and it is natural to want more information on COVID-19 and how it may affect people with CML or their ongoing treatment.
The novel nature of the coronavirus means that not a lot is known about how the infection can affect people with cancer, including those with CML. The most important thing to remember at this time is to follow your local guidelines and keep safe from infection and to contact your healthcare team if you have any concerns about your health. To support you, the team at CML Life have compiled a list of potential topics that contain specific information available for people living with CML during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Am I at higher risk of coronavirus because of my CML/CML treatment?
It may feel disconcerting to be included in a list of people classed as vulnerable to COVID-19, but it is important to understand the risk to your health in context. In general, in any circumstance, people with cancer are among those at high risk of serious illness if they contract an infection because their immune systems are often weakened by cancer and related treatment.1 Most types of leukemia start in immune system blood cells and can change the way the immune system blood cells work.1
However, the general consensus is that there are certain groups of people with cancer, including those with CML who are receiving treatment, who are not considered to be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.2 It is also thought that people with CML who have stabilized blood counts may not be immunocompromised in any significant way, neither from the CML itself or from the treatment – this is thought to apply to those who are in the early stages of treatment too.2
Do I need to take any immediate action?
The most important thing you can do during this time is to focus on looking after your physical and mental wellbeing. It is important that you follow all advice from your healthcare team at this time and do everything you can to avoid encountering any form of infection, including, but not limited to, the coronavirus.3 Guidelines on how to remain safe during this time, such as the wearing of masks, social distancing or even local lockdowns, are likely to change as the situation develops, so to keep yourself updated follow advice local to you and take all relevant precautions.
Continuing CML treatment during COVID-19
You may be concerned about how the coronavirus outbreak will affect your CML treatment. Currently, neither chronic phase CML nor its treatment appear to induce a state of clinically significant immunosuppression.4 It is, therefore, advised that you do not stop your treatment, even if you experience symptoms of COVID-19, unless your haematologist or oncologist asks you to do so.4
Accessing treatment during COVID-19
It is possible that some of the clinics and appointments you usually have may be cancelled or postponed, or that your visit may be conducted in a different way. If this is the case, your hospital or clinic will contact you to communicate any changes that need to be made to your care or treatment.5
Visiting the hospital may increase your risk of being exposed to and getting the coronavirus. Your healthcare team might make changes to reduce your hospital visits and to lower the amount of time you spend in the hospital. These changes might include asking you to come to your appointments on your own to lower the risk of spreading the infection; texting you when they’re ready to see you so you don’t have to wait around inside the hospital or offering you appointments over the telephone.6
Your CML medicine supply
If you are concerned about your supply of CML medicines and any additional medication you require, contact your healthcare team and they will help you ensure you can get access to your medicine in a safe and timely way. Your local pharmacy may have a procedure in place that will enable you to order your prescriptions remotely and have them delivered to your home.3
What if my condition worsens?
Always contact your healthcare professional if you feel unwell or think that your symptoms may be worsening. Your healthcare team will continue to support and monitor you throughout this period.6
Emotional wellbeing during COVID-19
All this uncertainty can be worrying. If you are feeling more worried or anxious than usual, mindfulness can help – if this is new to you a good starting point is here and there is a whole library of free CML Life mindfulness podcasts available here.
For additional support with isolation, read our article on coping with isolation for some good ideas on how to get through this time here. If you find yourself feeling low, there is support available – access our article on 'how to feel more positive' and 'how to keep well' and remember to keep in touch with friends and family during this difficult time here.