COVID-19, cancer, and what lies ahead

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc globally, health care officials are concerned about the long-term effects on cancer patients. Delays in treatment, or even diagnosis of the disease, was the impetus for a survey within the oncology community regarding patient care.

“Our survey confirms that COVID-19 has a major impact on the organization of patient care and the well-being of caregivers,” Dr. Guy Jerusalem at CHU de Liège in Belgium.

“Clinical trial activity [is also affected], as well as continued medical education,” Dr. Jerusalem added.

According to the survey, 88.2% of the 356 participating centers worldwide reported significant challenges in the wake of the pandemic. Fifty-four countries across six continents participated in the question-based study between April 21 and May 8.

The most common challenges included reduced services and potentially exposing patients to harm. The survey results will be detailed Sept. 19-21 during the European Society for Medical Oncology 2020 Virtual Congress. [1]

A reduction in services as a result of the coronavirus was cited by 55.34% of centers. Other contributing factors to the centers’ reduced services:

  • overwhelmed health care system (19.94%);
  • lack of personal protective equipment (PPE; 19.10%);
  • staff shortage (17.98%);
  • restricted access to medications (9.83%).

Although quick normalization for health care workers was hoped for after the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s the pandemic’s impact will be long term. Understanding how these effects influence patients with cancer going forward will be crucial in the coming years.

The survey found that 46.31% of the centers said more than 10% of patients missed at least one treatment.

Also, 36.52% of the centers said patients were exposed to harm because of cancer care interruption. Moreover, 39.04% of the centers noted patients faced decreased non-cancer-related care.

“We tend to forget that our patients with cancer also have other medical problems,” said Dr. Abdul Rahman Jazieh, oncology chairman at King Abdulaziz Medical City in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “They have hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and so on. [Those conditions] require care. We brag in many institutions that dialysis, [for example], continued [during the COVID-19 pandemic], but think of all the other services our patients needed.”

AstraZeneca pauses experimental coronavirus vaccine

A patient taking part in AstraZeneca’s clinical trial became ill, causing the pharma giant to stop administering the potential COVID-19 vaccine. At the same time, the company has begun a formal review of its vaccine trials. [2]

In development with researchers from the University of Oxford, this is currently one of 32 potential vaccines in a clinical trial. [3]

“This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials,” AstraZeneca spokeswoman Michele Meixell said.

International scientists also have raised questions over a fast-tracked vaccine from Russia. The scientists note some of the study’s results seem to be improbable.

Meanwhile, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told the U.S. Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Sept. 16 that a minimal supply of a COVID-19 vaccine may be ready in November or December. However, he cautioned it “will have to be prioritized” for first responders and those with the most significant risk of dying.

Dr. Redfield added that the earliest the general public could expect the vaccine is late summer 2021. In the meantime, he said, “… face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have.”

 

Citations

[1] ESMO 2020 Virtual Congress. https://www.esmo.org/meetings/esmo-virtual-congress-2020

[2] AstraZeneca Vaccine Tests Face Delay After Patient Gets Ill. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-09-08/astrazeneca-shares-fall-on-report-of-vaccine-trial-setback

[3] These are the top coronavirus vaccines to watch. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/health/covid-vaccine-update-coronavirus/