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Dana Farber Changes Breast Cancer Treatment Plans During Coronavirus Pandemic

BOSTON (CBS) – Emily Whittemore just finished chemotherapy three weeks ago. The next step in her fight against breast cancer is surgery, but it's been postponed because of the coronavirus.

"I was supposed to have surgery yesterday to remove the remaining nodes and that's been pushed back," said Whittemore. "At first it's like, ugh you want it out. It's like having a parasite in your body. You just want it out."

Dana Farber Cancer Institute is making changes to their treatment plans for patients with breast cancer during the pandemic to reduce in-person visits and decrease immunosuppression.

"I have been a breast cancer doctor -only- for about 30 years. I cannot remember any time like this," said Dr. Eric Winer, Chief of Breast Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Some of the changes include stopping all routine breast cancer screenings until June 15, postponing surgeries when possible and using alternative treatments to chemotherapy, which can lead to a suppressed immune system.

"The worry is that if you have COVID and you're immunosuppressed that you're at greater risk to have complications from it," said Dr. Winer.

The changes are meant to help protect patients and free up scarce resources.

"We have some doctors who really have to be deployed to others areas," said Dr. Winer.

Whittemore says she is staying patient and positive.

"I think your thoughts have a big input. You can sit at home and not feel like a victim. You can exercise and meditate and think 'I'm not an emergency.' I can say that for myself and know that I have time," she said.

Dr. Winer says the new practice suggestions will evolve as the coronavirus situation changes.

"I think we're going to be dealing with COVID until we have a good vaccine," said Dr. Winer. "I think we're going to have to think carefully about how we take care of people with cancer during that whole period of time."

"I just hope we get to a place that's more comfortable sooner rather than later," he said.

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