In Light of Delayed Medical Appointments, a Nationwide Campaign Encourages Cancer Screening

A survey of radiation oncologists conducted early this year by the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) revealed that new patients are coming in for radiation treatments with more advanced cancers, a result of deferred screening and treatment due to the pandemic. Among the findings, two-thirds of physicians said patients are presenting with more advanced disease than before the pandemic, a similar proportion reported patients had experienced treatment interruptions, and 73% noticed missed cancer screenings among their patients. “One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we already see the consequences of pandemic-driven drops in cancer screening and diagnostics,” said radiation oncologist Thomas J. Eichler, chair of the ASTRO board of directors, in a press release. To encourage Americans to get necessary screening, “Time to Screen,” a campaign launched jointly by the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) and CancerCare, a nonprofit support group for cancer patients, offers online resources and a toll-free number, 1-855-53-SCREEN, for those wanting to learn more. “COVID-19 has caused many people to delay recommended screenings, which are now at dangerously low levels,” said medical oncologist Kashyap Patel, COA president, in a press release. “‘Time to Screen’ is a reminder that everyone can now do something essential for their health.”

Additional Care Improves Outcomes for Patients Taking Oral Cancer Drugs

Anti-cancer drugs taken orally on an outpatient basis can be more convenient for cancer patients than drugs administered intravenously, but with convenience come disadvantages that can limit treatment effectiveness. These include poor adherence to the drug regimens and possible interactions between multiple drugs being taken by the patient. A study published April 6 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that intensified pharmacological/pharmaceutical care for patients taking oral medications can reduce the number of medication errors, limit severe side effects and improve patients’ perceptions of their treatment. For the study, 202 patients taking oral cancer drugs were randomly assigned to receive standard care or the intensified care program for 12 weeks. Intensified care included four additional sessions for patients given by clinical pharmacologists and pharmacists. The counseling sessions focused on topics including medication management, side effect prevention and adherence to treatment. Patients also received fact sheets and brochures about their treatments and side effects. The study found a 34% reduction in treatment side effects and medication errors related to oral cancer treatment in the intensified care group compared to the group that did not receive extra help, and a 45% reduction in severe side effects. Also, patient-reported satisfaction with their treatments and with the information presented showed a significant improvement. “Our data clearly support the notion that the use of approved oral anti-tumor agents can considerably be optimized by a specialized team, since medication errors and severe side effects are reduced and patient-reported outcomes improve,” the study authors write.

Whole Genome Sequencing Could Improve Myeloid Cancer Diagnosis

A cancer research blog published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) April 6 reported on a study finding that the use of whole genome sequencing in patients with acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes improved the detection of genomic abnormalities. Whole genome sequencing can determine the total genetic makeup of a patient’s sample in one test. The results aid physicians in assessing the risk of cancer relapse and recommending treatments based on that risk. The study, published March 11 in the New England Journal of Medicine​, compared whole genome sequencing with conventional testing. The researchers found that whole genome sequencing detected all of the abnormalities detected by conventional analysis. Further, it uncovered new findings in about a quarter of the patients. More than half of these patients could have had different treatments based on these new findings, according to pathologist David Spencer of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, a study investigator. “Although the actual cost for clinical testing using whole genome sequencing may still be greater than that of conventional tests today, the time when the costs are the same will be here very shortly,” he told the NCI. “The capacity for sequencing is increasing at a phenomenal rate, so that what was previously unthinkable just a decade ago is now realistic.”