Delays and cancellation of cancer treatments and other safety measures undertaken to minimize the risk of exposure to COVID-19 have generated a huge backlog in oncology care and research. The threat of delayed diagnoses looms while oncology professionals face burnout, according to new studies discussed at the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Virtual Congress 2020.
Not Just COVID-19
“Whether the risk for dark statistics is real or not will only become evident in the future, when more robust results from real-world studies and registries are available,” said Stefan Zimmermann, MD, ESMO Press Officer, at the meeting’s opening press conference. “For now, it is legitimate to ask ourselves if there are other factors beyond COVID-19 that currently put strain on oncology, as the pandemic has revealed weaknesses in how cancer care is resourced and organized,” he added.
Stefan Zimmermann, MD
Prior to the pandemic, Europe’s cancer burden was estimated by the European Cancer Information System to reach 2.7 million new cases and 1.3 million deaths in 2020.1 However, the COVID-19 outbreak has placed unprecedented pressures on health-care systems around the world.
A study presented during the ESMO Virtual Congress 2020 highlights the extent to which COVID-19 has challenged the organization and delivery of cancer care.2 Responses were obtained from oncology centers in 18 countries. Overall, 60.9% reported that clinical activity was reduced at the peak of the pandemic, whereas nearly two-thirds (64.2%) cited undertreatment as a major concern and 37% expected to see significant reductions in clinical trials this year.
The impact of COVID-19 on patient care worldwide is also highlighted in another study,3 which gathered data from 356 cancer centers across 54 countries during April 2020. The vast majority (88%) reported facing challenges in providing care during the pandemic, with 54% and 45% reporting cases of coronavirus among their patients and staff, respectively. And although half (55%) reduced services preemptively, others were forced to do so after being overwhelmed by the situation (20%) or following a shortage of personal protective equipment (19%), staff (18%), and medicines (9.8%). As a result, 46% of centers reported that more than 1 in 10 patients missed at least one cycle of treatment.
1. Dyba TA: ESMO Virtual Congress 2020. Abstract 1581O_PR.
2. Jerusalem G: ESMO Virtual Congress 2020. Abstract LBA76_PR.
3. Jazieh AR: ESMO Virtual Congress 2020. Abstract 1678P_PR.