Getting timely treatment for ovarian cancer is essential — even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2. It can cause a wide variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to potentially life threatening.

Read on to learn how you can protect yourself while getting the care you need.

More research is needed before scientists and doctors will understand how COVID-19 affects people with ovarian cancer.

According to early research compiled by the American Society of Clinic Oncology, people with cancer in general appear to be at increased risk for developing COVID-19.

“In general, cancer patients probably have a higher risk, especially those who are on therapy, like chemotherapy, for example,” Dr. Nita Karnik Lee, MPH, a gynecologic oncologist and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine in Illinois, told Healthline.

Cancer or certain cancer treatments also appear to raise a person’s risk for developing potentially life threatening complications from COVID-19.

“Patients whose doctors or treatment teams warn them about their blood counts being low or those kinds of things are going to be generally immunocompromised,” Lee added.

Many people with ovarian cancer are also over the age of 65, which is considered a high-risk age group for COVID-19.

To lower your risk for developing COVID-19 or passing the virus to others, Lee advises people with ovarian cancer to stringently follow local and national guidelines.

“The same things that are really being recommended throughout the country are what I tell our patients to take to heart,” Lee said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises community members to do the following:

  • Practice physical distancing (social distancing). Avoid nonessential travel and crowded areas. Try to keep at least 6 feet of distance between you and members of other households or anyone in your home who shows symptoms of infection.
  • Wear a face mask. Wear a mask that covers your mouth and nose whenever you’re in public or spending time near someone from outside your household.
  • Wash your hands frequently. Use soap and warm water whenever possible. When those aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
  • Don’t touch your face with unwashed hands. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces on a daily basis. For example, high-touch surfaces include tables, desks, countertops, doorknobs, handles, light switches, faucets, sinks, toilets, phones, and computer keyboards.
  • Be cautious about activities. If you decide to go out, be aware that no activity is completely risk-free, but some may be less risky than others. For example, activities are safer when they happen outdoors, while activities are riskier when they occur in poorly ventilated indoor space without room for physical distancing.

If you think you might have been exposed to the virus or might have symptoms of COVID-19, call your primary care doctor and cancer care team right away.

They can help you learn where to get tested for the virus.

Your cancer care team may also adjust your treatment plan while you wait for your test results.

“If you think that you had an unexpected exposure to the virus, that might lead me to say, ‘OK, look, you’re due for chemo next week, but let’s just wait 1 more week,’” Lee said.

“‘Let’s make sure your test is negative and give you 7 to 14 days to make sure you don’t develop any symptoms,’” she continued.

According to the CDC, people with COVID-19 can have a wide range of symptoms, from mild to severe.

Some of the more common COVID-19 symptoms include:

  • fever or chills
  • cough, shortness of breath, or other difficulty breathing
  • head, muscle, or body aches
  • fatigue
  • lost sense of smell, taste, or both
  • sore throat
  • congestion, including runny nose
  • gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

COVID-19 and hospitalization rates have varied widely from one state, county, and town to another.

Hospitals in some regions have been overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, while hospitals in other areas have faced less pandemic-related pressure.

Your region’s local circumstances will help determine how the pandemic affects your ovarian cancer treatment plan.

“What we’re learning is that healthcare access is very region-specific, as places go in and out of these waves [of the pandemic],” Lee said.

Here are some aspects of your treatment plan that might be adjusted.

Treatment schedule

To make the most of local healthcare resources while keeping patients safe, your cancer care team may adjust the timing or location of certain treatments.

“It’s a process of deciding, what are the resources at the hospital and how are hospital cases triaged?” Lee explained.

“So, for example, sometimes there may be shifts in who starts with chemotherapy instead of surgery first. Or perhaps, planning for four cycles of chemotherapy instead of just three cycles before surgery,” she continued.

Talk to your cancer care team to learn how they may adjust your treatment plan.

Appointments and tests

If you’re living with ovarian cancer or in remission from the disease, your cancer care team may schedule fewer face-to-face checkups and lab tests than usual during the pandemic.

“One thing that’s been really important for us is using telehealth and video and phone visits, when we can, to eliminate some in-person appointments,” Lee said.

Connecting with your cancer care team by phone or online can help limit your contact with other patients and healthcare providers. This may lower your risk for contracting the new coronavirus.

“Cancer is not stopping because of COVID-19.”

— Dr. Nita Karnik Lee, University of Chicago Medicine

Some doctors have also partnered with home healthcare services to allow patients to get lab tests done at home.

Talk to your cancer care team to learn about your options for appointments and tests.

If you find it hard to access online services, let them know.

Clinical trial participation

Some people with ovarian cancer receive experimental treatments through clinical trials.

Depending on the local circumstances, certain clinical trials may be affected by the pandemic.

For example, Lee told Healthline that some clinical trials have delayed enrollment of new participants since the pandemic began.

Some clinical trial investigators have also reduced the number of in-person appointments and lab tests that they require for participants.

If you’re currently registered in a clinical trial or interested in joining one, talk to the clinical trial coordinator to learn whether the pandemic has affected the trial.

Social support is important for helping people manage the effects of ovarian cancer.

To reduce the risk of isolation while practicing physical distancing, consider reaching out to loved ones and fellow members of the ovarian cancer community online or by phone.

For example:

  • Join an online support group or discussion board, such as the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition’s CancerConnect Community or the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance’s Ovarian Cancer Community.
  • If you’re a member of an ovarian cancer support group that usually meets in person, ask group members if they’re interested in meeting online through video conferencing.
  • Connect with other ovarian cancer patients and survivors on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter using hashtags such as #OvarianCancer and #knowovarian.
  • Schedule a weekly video or phone call with your mom, son, daughter, best friend, or other loved ones.

If you’re experiencing persistent feelings of anxiety or depression, you may benefit from speaking with a professional counselor.

Many counselors are currently offering clients the choice to connect by phone or online, if meeting in person isn’t a safe or comfortable option.

“Cancer is not stopping because of COVID-19,” Lee said.

That means that efforts to diagnose and treat cancer can’t stop either.

If you have ovarian cancer, it’s important to get treatment and support during the pandemic.

If you’re currently in remission from the disease, it’s important to let your cancer care team know if you develop any signs or symptoms of possible recurrence.

To help keep you safe during the pandemic, your cancer care team may adjust the timing of your treatments, use telehealth to connect with you, and encourage you to seek online support.

It’s also important to protect yourself from COVID-19 by following local and national guidelines. For example, practice physical distancing, wear a face mask, and wash your hands frequently.