The COVID-19 pandemic did not diminish the need for high-quality cancer treatments, but it profoundly changed how doctors deliver care.
To understand how the pandemic has affected cancer care, the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) surveyed hundreds of doctors who oversee U.S. radiation therapy clinics.
We found that radiation therapy — a treatment prescribed to more than half of people diagnosed with cancer — remained accessible throughout the pandemic. Despite facing challenges, radiation therapy clinics adapted in order to stay open and keep patient access to cancer treatment intact. Here’s how:
New safety procedures
The first essential step to staying open was quick, widespread adoption of procedures to protect patients and staff from infection.
Our survey found the most common new safety procedures were social distancing, masking, and additional cleaning protocols. For example, nearly all practices required masks for staff and patients.
Many of the clinics also staggered patient appointments and used additional protective equipment, such as face shields and gowns.
New ways to connect
People with cancer are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 because the disease and treatment suppress the immune system. Recognizing this risk, more than 90 percent of radiation therapy clinics launched a new telemedicine program.
One year into the pandemic, nearly all still use virtual visits for many patients, helping to prevent new infections without compromising cancer care.
Radiation therapy teams adopted new safety and treatment guidelines to keep clinics and staff safe, including policies to limit visitation and reduce unnecessary exposures.
These enhanced safety protocols help patients feel more secure when they come in to receive care. As more vaccines are given, people can also feel more comfortable resuming their regular, essential cancer screenings.
We will continue to see challenges emerge from this pandemic, and we will continue to adapt in order to ensure a safe environment for both patients and providers.