Coronavirus and Lung Cancer – Symptoms, Risk, Treatment, Interaction

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 27, 2022
2 min read

COVID-19 disproportionately harms frail persons, including the elderly, and those with comorbid conditions, including cancer patients who are immunocompromised. Lung cancer patients have a much higher risk of COVID-19 infection than the general population. Because those patients, like many in cancer treatment, are immunocompromised.

While lung cancer itself is unlikely to increase the risk of coronavirus complications, many lung cancer patients are older, have underlying lung disease, and decreased lung capacity. 

They are also at a greater risk of getting sicker should they develop pulmonary complications of coronavirus and have been shown to have worse survival outcomes compared to the general population.

Coronavirus symptoms can vary from mild to severe illness and death. But the Center for Disease Control identifies that the following symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath

It is still a challenge to diagnose coronavirus in lung cancer patients because many of the symptoms are the same, such as:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Inflammation in the lungs

Lung cancer patients should get vaccinated against COVID-19 and talk to their doctor about boosters. The timing of the shots should be coordinated according to other cancer treatments.

Patients should also continue to social distance and wear masks when possible to limit possible exposure to infection.  

Many oncologists and surgeons have modified treatment plans to:

  • Limit the number of times cancer patients have to go to the clinic or the hospital
  • Limit or avoid treatments that may suppress the immune system
  • Substitute telemedicine visits for in-person clinic visits

Lung cancer patients who test positive for COVID-19 should seek treatment right away. 

The main trigger to get evaluated should be fevers or a new, persistent cough, or worsening breathing.

Antiviral medicines which may keep symptoms from getting too severe or help speed recovery include:

Monoclonal antibody treatments have also been approved for use in treating cancer patients with COVID-19. They include:

Patients who receive treatments that may compromise the immune system should discuss treatment options with their doctors. Treatments like radiation and chemotherapy may make patients more susceptible to illnesses including COVID-19. Patients with concerns should discuss their treatment plans with their doctors.

Some patients who receive radiation therapy may develop pneumonitis that may resemble COVID-19-related pneumonia. Those who have difficulty breathing, chest pain, fevers, or dry cough should speak with their doctors.