A team of data scientists and oncologists from the University of Michigan and Pennsylvania State University have developed a free, Web-based application to help in comparing the long-term risk to a patient from a months-long postponement of care to the additional risk posed by potential COVID-19 infection if they undergo surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation therapy.
Assessing the Risk
The OncCOVID app draws upon large, national cancer data sets to help assess the risk from immediate treatment vs delayed treatment, depending on patients’ individual characteristics, as well as on COVID’s impact on their local community.
“For many types of cancer, the data show delays in treatment lead to worse outcomes for patients,” said the project’s lead researcher, Holly Hartman, a doctoral student in biostatistics at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “But each time patients with cancer go to the hospital to receive care, they’re also putting themselves at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. So, it’s essential to balance the need for treatment for this very serious disease and the extra risk that COVID-19 poses for patients with cancer, whose immune systems are often compromised.”
The researchers envision OncCOVID’s use by physicians to help identify patients whose risk from COVID is outweighed by the benefits of immediate treatment. “We also see the app providing additional reassurance to oncologists and their patients when the data show that delaying treatment will likely have little or no impact on a patients’ long-term outcome,” Ms. Hartman added.
Daniel Spratt, MD
OncCOVID could also be used by health-care systems that are ramping services back up and need to prioritize a backlog of patients whose treatment was put on hold due to the pandemic, noted Daniel Spratt, MD, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at Michigan Medicine and one of the project’s senior researchers.
“Hospitals have basically been using a three-tiered system during COVID: treat, delay a little, or delay a lot,” Dr. Spratt said. “Unfortunately, this tiered system is an extremely blunt instrument. Our goal was to create a resource that could be tailored both to individual patients and to their local community.”
The OncCOVID app is not intended to provide medical advice to patients, the researchers cautioned. A number of factors may figure into a care provider’s recommendation to delay or proceed with cancer treatment, including the local hospital’s capacity to safely treat patients with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Matthew Schipper, PhD
Matthew Schipper, PhD, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology and Biostatistics at the University of Michigan, was also a co-creator of the app. Other collaborators on the project include Nicholas G. Zaorsky, Xi Wang, Ming Wang, and Vonn Walter, of Pennsylvania State University; and Yilun Sun, Emily Morris, Elizabeth Chase, Theresa Devasia, Pin Li, Kelley Kidwell, Robert Dess, and William Jackson, of the University of Michigan.
Disclaimer: The work was supported, in part, by grants from the National Institutes of Health.