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What Cancer Care Can Teach Us About Treating COVID-19

Healthcare providers and patients with COVID-19 can learn much about addressing racial disparities, access to clinical trials, and the importance of prevention from oncology and cancer care teams who’ve seen this issues before.

The global pandemic abruptly changed everyone’s world. Many healthcare providers had to quickly adapt to an entirely new reality, including universal use of masks by staff and patients and conducting virtual appointments.

Yet those of us who practice in oncology understand that patients with cancer faced many of the same fears we all face now, long before there was COVID-19. Fortunately, cancer care teams who have faced similar challenges before are rapidly adapting to meet this crisis and are already learning from this experience.

Disproportionate impact

Like COVID-19, cancer affects minority and underserved patients disproportionately. Black Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans of all ages are contracting, being hospitalized due to, and dying from COVID-19 at higher rates than whites. Unfortunately, similar racial disparities exist for many cancers, including lung, breast, and prostate. Like cancer, COVID-19 has also had a devastating impact on older adults, and we need to do more to protect and treat this vulnerable patient population.

Bottom line: we need to understand which patients are most likely to be affected, what happens when they are affected, and how to make them better. To help build this urgently needed knowledge base that will help us better care for patients affected with cancer and COVID-19, the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) is actively supporting the COVID-19 in Oncology Registry. Developed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), this registry is collecting information about how COVID-19 impacts cancer patients and their treatment and outcomes.

Accessing the best treatments

Participation on a clinical trial remains the gold standard of care. Whether patients have COVID-19 or cancer (or both), they receive the best possible care when enrolled on a clinical trial. Yet far too few patients, especially racial, ethnic, and other minorities, are able to participate in these ground-breaking research opportunities. To correct this disparity, improve healthcare equity, and ensure that clinical trials accurately reflect the communities and the world we serve, we must enroll more Black Americans, Latinx, Asian Americans, LGBTQI individuals, older Americans, and other underserved patient populations in these trials.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with COVID-19 or cancer, don’t wait for your physician to suggest a clinical trial. Instead, ask if and where one is available.

Prevention is key

Similar to our approach during the pandemic, prevention is the best defense against both diseases. If you have symptoms or have been exposed, get tested for COVID-19. Do not cancel or delay your screening appointments. Get your mammograms and colonoscopies. For those with cancer, keep up with your treatments and follow-up visits. Early diagnosis, early treatment, and evidence-based cancer therapies can save your life. Be assured that the oncology community is meeting COVID-19 challenges with improved safety measures, like drive through screening and innovative ways to manage COVID-19 patients in the clinic.

We do not yet understand the full impact of the pandemic or how long it will last, but we do know that our healthcare teams remain dedicated to providing life-saving treatment and support. And we all need support.

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