The other COVID-19 health crisis in Oncology

SUMMARY: COVID-19 has caused substantial increases in the number of avoidable cancer deaths due to diagnostic and treatment delays. People who need healthcare are avoiding it because of COVID-related concerns, and in some cases, it costs them their lives. Where are healthcare companies?

Recent data has revealed that the increase in the COVID-19 positivity rate correlates to an increase in mortality from non-coronavirus-related diseases, including cancer.

In one retrospective study, 9.1% of lung cancer patients decided to delay their cancer treatments, of which 80% chose to delay treatments themselves rather than as a result of a clinician or family request.

Another study found that a delay of four weeks in all forms of cancer treatment can increase patient mortality and that delays greater than four weeks can be even more detrimental. While the anxieties surrounding the current pandemic are understandable, it is generally recommended that cancer patients continue their standard treatment regimen in order to prevent a worsening of their prognosis.

Who’s going to take responsibility?

Nearly half of the 2,186 cancer patients diagnosed with COVID-19 had mild cases, while 40% were deemed moderate and 12%, severe. Cancer patients in good health with no comorbidities — both in active treatment and remission — had a mortality rate of 4%, slightly higher than that of the U.S. general population, generally cited as between 2 and 3.4% (and notoriously difficult to pinpoint).

According to recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), about 156,199,800 Americans, or around 49 percent of the country’s total population, receive employer-sponsored health insurance (also called group health insurance). Why haven’t they stepped up to remind their customers of the importance of cancer screening and treatment?

Pharma, who seems to be promoting a number of oncology drugs, has remained silent. At a minimum, they should be announcing on their oncology drug websites the importance of continuing treatment without delay.

Pharma should also be using social media to remind cancer patients to continue treatment and the dangers of skipping treatment. This is not something that should be up for debate; it’s an essential way to show that you care about patients’ health.

The actual effects of COVID-19 will take years to study, but there are things the healthcare community can do NOW to help patients. Pharma companies must join together with other healthcare organizations to develop and spread a message about the importance of staying on a treatment schedule. This is not something that should be debated…it’s the right thing to do!