« All Blogs Jun 29, 2020 (Cleveland)
The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on the Cancer Patient

By Cortney Grossman, CTR, Cancer Information Specialist

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every one of us in one way or another. For some, the impact of this pandemic has had a greater effect on them than it has on others. One group that has been impacted significantly is those receiving continuous medical care, particularly cancer patients. 

A recent Washington Post article written by oncologist and author Dr. Jalal Baig outlined how COVID-19 has made already difficult decisions even greater when it comes to cancer patients and their physicians. In his article, Dr. Baig reported that a recent study in China has noted that those with cancer that have contracted COVID-19 have a higher risk of severe events (death, admission to ICU, need for ventilation) than those without a diagnosis of cancer. Dr. Baig also noted another recent study out of Italy that reported around 20% of overall COVID-19 related deaths have occurred in patients with active cancer.

As a certified tumor registrar (CTR), our job is to tell the story of each cancer patient as part of our data collection. Over the last couple of months, I, as well as many of my colleagues in the field, have noticed some changes in these stories due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The exact effects of this pandemic on cancer patients are not yet known, however, below are some of the changes I have noticed as a CTR.

    • Delay in diagnosis due to screenings being delayed or canceled:
      • For example, delay or cancellation of screening mammograms or skin cancer screenings.
    • Delay in surgical procedures in some of those already diagnosed with cancer: 
      • An example would be in low stage and less aggressive cancers. Some surgeries were delayed due to closures of certain procedures during the pandemic.
    • Some patients have had changes in the typical treatment plan for their cancer:
      • For example, some ER+/PR+ low stage breast cancer patients began hormone therapy before their surgical procedure while they waited for their surgery to be scheduled and performed. Typically, in a ER+/PR+ low stage breast cancer, a patient would have surgery first and hormone therapy after.
    • Delay in additional treatment of cancer due to the pandemic:
      • Many patients have had a delay in radiation therapy or even chemotherapy.
    • Patients have or are deferring treatment for their cancer due to fear of catching the virus at a place of treatment:
      • It’s been reported in the news and throughout social media that some patients have or are declining radiation or chemotherapy out of fear of going to the hospital or cancer centers during the outbreak.

Thankfully, most surgical procedures and many cancer screenings have now resumed with caution and with additional health and safety measures. Most, if not all, surgery patients are now required to undergo a COVID-19 screening test before their surgical procedure.

CTRs have adjusted to the environment as well. We have now begun recording COVID-19 diagnoses and or delays in treatment information into the cancer patient abstract. Over the next several months, years and potentially even decades, we will begin to see the true effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on cancer patients and on this important data we collect in the cancer registry.

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About the Author

Cortney Grossman, CTR