Protecting lung cancer patients from Covid-19 – and learning from the experience

Dr. Suzanne Kazandjian,  Dr. Arielle Elkrief and Dr. Nathaniel Bouganim
Dr. Suzanne Kazandjian, Dr. Arielle Elkrief and Dr. Nathaniel Bouganim

Since the start of the pandemic, efforts have been made to limit the exposure of vulnerable patients to the invisible threat of COVID-19. As a result, many lung cancer patients, who have higher mortality rates from COVID-19, experienced a change in their treatment plan - changes that reflected informed decisions that patients made in collaboration with their physicians, for their own protection. A team of researchers at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) thought it would be important to track and evaluate those changes, and their findings were recently published in JAMA Oncology.  

The team – composed of Dr. Suzanne Kazandjian, resident at the MUHC and Dr. Arielle Elkrief, fellow at the MUHC – was led by Dr. Nathaniel Bouganim, investigator in the Cancer Research Program at the Research Institute of the MUHC. They assessed the treatment plan of all patients seen in the thoracic oncology clinic at the Cedars Cancer Centre of the MUHC between March 2 and May 30, 2020. Their study shows that 57 percent of them experienced changes in their lung cancer treatment plan as a direct result of the pandemic. The study reinforces that “all oncology clinics should track these changes occurring in cancer care, because it will become important to evaluate the effect of these changes on clinical outcomes,” write the authors.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, there were so many unknowns. Now we know which measures need to be taken to protect patients who come to the hospital, and more importantly, no clear evidence has emerged that cancer treatments increase the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes,” says Dr. Arielle Elkrief, the first author of the study. “Therefore, evidence-based cancer care should continue to proceed with caution. As healthcare practitioners, we must strive to continue to provide the best possible care for our patients despite the challenges of COVID-19.