How is oncology adapting to COVID-19?


As the coronavirus pandemic escalates in the United States, Medscape Oncology reached out to a group of our contributors and asked them to provide their perspective on how their oncology departments and centers are preparing. Here are their responses to a number of issues facing oncologists in the US and around the world.

Have you shifted nonurgent follow-up visits to telemedicine, either via video or phone?

Kathy Miller, MD, Associate Director of Indiana University Simon Cancer Center: We are reviewing our clinic schedules and identifying “routine” follow-up patients who can be rescheduled. When patients are contacted to reschedule, they are asked if they have any urgent, immediate concerns that need to be addressed before the new appointment. If yes, they are offered a virtual visit.

Don Dizon, MD, Director of Women’s Cancers, Lifespan Cancer Institute; Director of Medical Oncology, Rhode Island Hospital: We have started to do this in preparation for a surge of people with COVID-19. Patients who are in long-term follow-up (no evidence of disease at 3 years or longer, being seen annually) or those in routine surveillance after curative treatment (that is, seen every 3 months) as well as those being seen for supportive care–type visits, like sexual health or survivorship, are all being contacted and visits are being moved to telehealth.

Jeffrey S. Weber, MD, PhD, Deputy Director of the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone Medical Center: Yes. Any follow-up, nontreatment visits are done by phone or video if the patient agrees. (They all have).

Have you delayed or canceled cancer surgeries?

Ravi B. Parikh, MD, MPP, Medical oncologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia VA Medical Center: The University of Pennsylvania has taken this seriously. We’ve canceled all elective surgeries, have ramped up our telemedicine (video and phone) capabilities significantly, are limiting our appointments mostly to on-treatment visits, and have been asked to reconsider regular scans and reviews.

Dizon: We have not done this. There are apparently differences in interpretation in what institutions might mean as “elective surgeries.” At our institution, surgery for invasive malignancies is not elective. However, this may (or will) change if resources become an issue.

Lidia Schapira, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine and Director of Cancer Survivorship at the Stanford Comprehensive Cancer Institute: Delaying elective surgery is something that hospitals here have already implemented, and I imagine that this trend will spread. But it may be difficult to decide in situations that are not exactly “life-saving” but where an earlier intervention could preserve function or improve quality of life.

Mark A. Lewis, MD, Director of Gastrointestinal Oncology at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah: Cancer surgeries have not been deemed elective or delayed.

Have you delayed or altered the delivery of potentially immune-comprising treatments?

David Kerr, MD, Professor of Cancer Medicine at the University of Oxford in England: We are considering delaying initiation of our adjuvant colorectal cancer treatments, as we have data from our own QUASAR trials suggesting that patients who commence chemotherapy between 2 and 6 weeks do equally as well as those who begin 6-12 weeks after surgery.

Parikh: I personally haven’t delayed giving chemotherapy to avoid immune compromise, but I believe some others may have. It’s a delicate balance between wanting to ensure cancer control and making sure we are flattening the curve. As an example, though, I delayed three on-treatment visits for my clinic last Monday, and I converted 70% of my visits to telemedicine. However, I’m a genitourinary cancer specialist and the treatments I give are very different from others.

Lewis: The most difficult calculus is around adjuvant therapy. For metastatic patients, I am trying to use the least immunosuppressive regimen possible that will still control their disease. As you can imagine, it’s an assessment of competing risks.


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