“The current COVID-19 pandemic is taking healthcare hostage,” says a new article in Nature Medicine on ‘Caring for patients with cancer in the COVID-19 era.’ The list of 21 authors from across Europe includes top researchers and clinicians, among them EACR Board Member Carlos Caldas.

The article explores the challenges faced by oncologists and the care they provide in the face of the global pandemic to avoid “compromising cancer outcomes”. The authors draw upon the experiences of the 7 comprehensive centres of Cancer Core Europe (CCE) and how they have reacted and reorganised in order to “pandemic proof” their systems.

Restructuring cancer care during the pandemic

The article describes how the seven comprehensive cancer centres in CCE have taken steps to preserve high standards of care for patients with cancer while battling shortages in personal protective equipment, beds, personnel and more. Each institute attempted to keep the number of COVID-19 cases low, acknowledging that it was not possible to fully keep the virus out of their respective clinics.

Supporting care-givers and facilities

There is a strong need to support the personnel and the facilities they use. This is to ensure “continuity of cancer care” both during the pandemic and most probably afterwards too. By protecting all levels of cancer care-givers and the facilities used as well as providing capacity for COVID-19 treatment, this will ensure that cancer patients receive quality treatment with as little risk as possible. It will also ensure that the amount of facilities to treat COVID-19 patients are temporarily increased to relieve pressure on health systems

Research & the future

One big commonality amongst each of the centres is the “lockdown” of research labs/facilities and asking researchers to work from home to reduce the possible spread of the virus and to ease social distancing in critical areas. This has also seen many researchers return to the front line of healthcare to ease the burden on many critical systems.

“The current crisis will have major ramifications for the progress of cancer research. However, public-health measures in place to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic must be prioritized at present, and the damage to scientific enterprise will be repairable in time if safeguards and resources are put in place.”

The article also identifies four critical research priorities ‘to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the care of patients with cancer’. These revolve around determining the effect of COVID-19 on patients’ outcomes, and also the effect of altered treatment regimes due to healthcare restrictions and limitations.

While there are still many unknowns as we progress through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are lessons to be learned from the reactions of institutions like those in the article which could help shape the future of cancer care.

Read the full article in Nature Medicine.