COVID-19 Affects Cancer Workforce, Treatment Regimens

The worldwide pandemic caused more healthcare providers to be out of work, as well as changes in patients’ treatment regimens.

Those on the frontlines are not immune to catching the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) themselves, and the high number of healthcare providers out of work has impacted cancer care, according to recent commentary published in the Lancet Oncology.1

A poll of healthcare workers in the United Kingdom found that about 20% of respondents were taking time off work, mainly because of suspected COVID-19 infection or because one of their household members had symptoms.2

“Oncology teams are adopting new ways of working to minimize risk to patients and staff at the same time as optimizing cancer treatment and care. Treatment regimens are being changed to reduce hospital visits,” commentary author Susan Mayor wrote.

Cancer care teams have increased their use of telemedicine. In fact, according to a recent poll of the Oncology Nursing News audience, 100% of respondents said that they have seen an increase in the use of telemedicine in their institutions throughout the last few months.

Additionally, leading institutions have published guidelines stratifying patients by risk, and using those categories to determine which patients are seen in the office, virtually, or have their visits delayed.

Many patients on intravenous (IV) immunotherapy are having their dosages altered so that they do not have to come into the clinic or hospital as often, according to the article, but challenges remain in treating patients on radiation therapy. When possible, these patients are getting a higher dose per fraction and fewer fractions, though this can lead to increased toxicity.

These changes in the way that patients with cancer are treated may last long beyond the end of the pandemic, the commentary said.

“Cancer specialists predict that new ways of working in cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic will permanently change oncology services, after evaluating their impact.”

References

1. Mayor S. COVID-19: Impact on cancer workforce and delivery of care. Lancet Oncol. doi:10.1016/ S1470-2045(20)30240-0.

2. COVID-19 and its impact on NHS workforce. Royal College of Physicians. https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/covid-19-and-its-impact-nhs-workforce Published April 5, 2020. Accessed April 21, 2020.