Doctors on cancer patients during pandemic: Another challenge of ‘life and death’


ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Cancer patients are some of the most at-risk people when it comes to catching COVID-19. Many still need to go in to hospitals to get treatment during this time- it’s a matter of life and death.

The medical directors at both Lipson and Wilmot cancer institutes said they’ve learned a lot about making tough decisions with their patients throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

They said deciding whether to continue or postpone treatment is very specific to each individual patient.

Dr. Pradyumna Phatak is the director of Lipson Cancer Institute at Rochester General Hospital. He said they’ve reduced and spaced out infusion treatments, limited the number of people allowed in the waiting room, and even added some evening and weekend hours to accommodate everyone.

“It really is an individual thing, it depends on what problem we’re treating them for, the medical prediction of what would happen if we didn’t do it, and then discussing that with a patient and arriving at mutual decision about whether that treatment should continue,” said Dr. Phatak.

Dr. Jonathan Friedberg is the director of Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center. He said doctors have been using telemedicine to minimize the number of patients coming in. They’ve also shifted some patients to oral therapies to minimize exposure in infusion rooms.

“For many of these patients the risk of dying of cancer, if not treated properly, is much higher than getting and dying of COVID and for that reason it’s important that we do continue to focus on cancer,” said Dr. Friedberg.

Both doctors said many cancer patients already have weakened immune systems and were already being careful in public and near other people.

“Some of our patients who are on treatments that suppress the immune system would be very susceptible to getting sick,” said Dr. Phatak.

“This is yet another challenge for people who are already dealing with life and death decisions,” said Dr. Friedberg.

They also said they’re encouraging all the usual social distancing and masking guidelines to their patients and staff to keep everyone who still needs to come in for treatment as safe as possible.

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