From the Journals

COVID-19 impact: Less chemo, immune checkpoint inhibitors, and steroids



In an international survey, most oncologists said they would recommend cytotoxic chemotherapy, immune checkpoint inhibitors, and steroids less often during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While neoadjuvant treatment recommendations were not strongly affected by the pandemic, about half of oncologists reported increased hesitancy over recommending frontline chemotherapy for metastatic disease, and a vast majority said they would recommend second- or third-line chemotherapy less often in the metastatic setting.

Most oncologists said they did not perform routine COVID-19 testing via reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) before treating cancer patients. In fact, only 3% said they performed COVID-19 RT-PCR testing routinely.

Yüksel Ürün, MD, of Ankara (Turkey) University, and colleagues reported these findings in JCO Global Oncology.

The goal of the survey was to “understand readiness measures taken by oncologists to protect patients and health care workers from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and how their clinical decision-making was influenced by the pandemic,” the authors wrote.

The online survey was conducted among 343 oncologists from 28 countries. Responses were collected anonymously, a majority (71%) from university or academic centers, with 95% received between April 1 and April 29, 2020.

Use of telemedicine was common (80%) among respondents, as was use of surgical masks (90%) and personal protective equipment in general.

Only 33% of respondents described using N95 masks. However, the proportion of oncologists who had access to N95 masks while caring for patients known to have COVID-19, especially while doing invasive procedures such as intubation, bronchoscopy, and any airway-related manipulations, was not captured by the survey.

COVID testing and cancer treatment

Most respondents (58%) said they did not perform routine COVID-19 RT-PCR testing prior to administering systemic cancer treatment, with 39% stating they performed RT-PCR tests in selected patients, and 3% saying they performed such testing in all patients.

The survey indicated that hormonal treatments, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, and bone-modifying agents were considered relatively safe, but cytotoxic chemotherapy and immune therapies were not.

Nearly all oncologists said the pandemic would cause them to make no change to their recommendations regarding hormone therapy, and nearly 80% said they would make no changes regarding tyrosine kinase inhibitors or bone-modifying agents.

However, more than 90% of respondents said they would recommend cytotoxic chemotherapy less often, about 70% said they would recommend corticosteroids less often, and around 50% said they would recommend anti–programmed death-1/PD-ligand 1 or anti–cytotoxic T-lymphocyte–associated protein 4 antibodies less often.

The pandemic made most respondents more reluctant to recommend second- or third-line chemotherapy in the metastatic setting. About 80% and 70% of respondents, respectively, would recommend second- or third-line chemotherapy less often.

However, first-line chemotherapy for metastatic disease, as well as adjuvant and neoadjuvant therapy, were less affected. About 30% of respondents said they would recommend neoadjuvant therapy less often, and 50%-55% would recommend adjuvant therapy or frontline chemotherapy for metastatic disease less often.

Most respondents (78%) said they would use granulocyte colony–stimulating factor (G-CSF) more frequently during the pandemic.

The factors most likely to affect oncologists’ treatment decisions were patient age (81%) and concomitant disease (92%). Additionally, 80% of respondents’ treatment decisions were influenced by Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status of 2 or higher, or the presence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


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