Lucio Gordan, MD, President and Managing Physician of Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute (FCS) and FCS Assistant Managing Physician Michael Diaz, MD are co-authors of a new national study that details the devastating effect the COVID-19 crisis has had on cancer screenings, diagnosis and treatment. Conducted for the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) by Avalere Health and in collaboration with Debra Patt, MD, PhD, MBA, FASCO, executive vice president, policy and strategic initiatives at Texas Oncology, the study is scheduled to be published in the November issue of the journal JCO Clinical Cancer Informatics. Its findings show a substantial decrease in the number of cancer screenings, diagnosis and treatment for senior adults and Medicare beneficiaries in 2020.
Gordan, Diaz and colleagues were part of the study’s research team of oncologists who reported that they are already seeing patients being diagnosed with later stage cancers, which require more complex treatment and often result in higher morbidity and mortality rates. “In the early months of the pandemic,” Dr. Gordan explained, “many people chose or had to delay or even skip regular screenings, such as mammograms, prostate exam, PSA testing or colonoscopies, among others, for various types of cancer. This has resulted in later diagnoses for some patients and delays in beginning treatment. Oncologists are preparing their practices for significant impact in cancer patient outcomes due to these delays.”
Dr. Diaz, who also serves as President of COA, concurs. “If cancers are not diagnosed at an early stage, we could face rising death rates for several years to come,” he said. “It is critical that adults with a family history of cancer and others who may be experiencing symptoms do not delay their screenings for the fear of being exposed to or contracting coronavirus. Medical practices now have numerous strategies in place to protect the safety and health of patients, doctors, nurses and other staff members.”
One positive revealed in the study was the rapid adoption of telehealth and other strategies by community oncology practices, such as Florida Cancer Specialists. Dr. Gordan said, “Community oncologists and their team members showed incredible resilience and resolve to deal with this severe crisis, by adopting telehealth very quickly, reorganizing workflows, enhancing safety processes at their clinics, and migrating staff to work from home, among other strategies. Although a decrease in services was inevitable, the resolve of these practitioners and staff handled and avoided what could have been a much worse situation.”
The study concludes that further analysis will be needed to evaluate the ongoing consequences of COVID-19 and its probable long-term impact on cancer care and outcomes.