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COVID-19 Pandemic Causing Delays in Breast Cancer Care

Novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

 A high proportion of patients with breast cancer report significant delays in cancer care and treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of a patient survey now published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, the majority of new cancer care guidelines have focused on minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19 without compromising the outcomes of patients with cancer. However, because delays or interruptions in treatment can negatively impact quality of life and survival, ensuring access to high-quality cancer care in light of the pandemic is also of the utmost importance.

For the study, Elizabeth Lerner Papautsky, PhD, a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical and Health Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Tamara Hamlish, PhD, a Research Scientist at the University of Illinois Cancer Center, investigated the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the care and treatment of patients with breast cancer. An online survey was administered to 609 adult patients with breast cancer, 63% of whom were currently receiving treatment. Participants had a mean age of 47.8 years, and 46% had received their most recent breast cancer diagnosis within the last five years. The surveys were completed between April 2 and April 27, 2020.

Among the participants, 44% reported delays or interruptions in an aspect of breast cancer care due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A higher incidence of delays was seen in younger patients compared with older patients. Results were not significantly impacted by race, insurance status, site of care, or cancer stage. Among types of care and treatment, the highest rate of delays or interruptions were reported in routine or follow-up clinic appointments (79%), surgical breast reconstruction (66%), diagnostic imaging (60%), and lab testing (50%), followed by infusion therapies (32%), radiation (30%), surgical tumor removal (26%), oral therapies (13%), and genetic counseling and testing (11%).

"Our study results point to the pervasive impact of COVID-19 on cancer care, and a critical gap in disaster preparedness that leaves vulnerable cancer survivors at even greater risk for poor cancer outcomes, including not only clinical outcomes, but factors such as mental health, pain, and quality of life," conclude Dr. Papautsky and Dr. Hamlish. "The factors underlying these disparities must be recognized and addressed in the development of systems and processes to deliver high-quality cancer care to those whose care has been delayed, to reduce the risk of exacerbating existing health inequities and ensure access to high-quality cancer care for all breast cancer survivors."

For More Information

Papautsky EL & Hamlish T (2020). Patient-reported treatment delays in breast cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Breast Cancer Res Treat. [Epub ahead of print] DOI:10.1007/s10549-020-05828-7

Image credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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