« All Blogs Feb 8, 2021 (Cleveland)
2021 Perspectives: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Changes to Cancer Care
Caitlin Blog

COVID-19 has managed to impact nearly every aspect of life over the past year. Globally, we are and will be seeing lasting changes to our world because of it. For example, a home office or hybrid model split between the office and home could affect everything from commutes, to home design around an office space, to where you decide to live. Some changes have been temporarily welcome, such as streaming a Sunday church service from the comfort of your couch, while other changes such as economic challenges, remote schooling and pandemic-related illnesses and deaths have been devastating. It’s been a trying time, to say the least – resiliency has been so important in making it to this stage of the pandemic. For certified tumor registrars (CTRs), I think there are plenty of perspectives to consider, summed up succinctly in a single question: What about the impacts on our industry, the cancer registry?

Cancer programs across the United States and the world have not been immune to the effects of this pandemic. Early on, we saw a decrease in visits and screenings, as well as delayed treatments and surgeries as COVID-19 related care was prioritized in anticipation of hospital surges and limited personal protective equipment (PPE). This resulted in challenges to cancer care, such as going outside traditional treatment guidelines or delayed care, in addition to delays in identifying new cancers. Health disparities in our communities have also been underlined and in some ways magnified. Let's take a look:

In a recent publication by the American Cancer Society, one electronic medical record company reported an estimated 80% to 90% decline in breast, colorectal and cervical cancer screenings during March and April 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. By June 2020, screenings had increased but were still down 29 to 36%. According to Centers for Disease Control data, HPV vaccines dropped 73% between February and April 2020, showing that preventative measures are being put aside as well. The full impact of the decrease in early detection and prevention will not be realized for some time but we can assume that we will see an increase in the incidence of higher stage at diagnosis. That alone could translate to increased cancer deaths.

The pandemic has permanently changed cancer care and the healthcare industry as a whole. Quick and positive changes were implemented out of necessity and are likely to stay, including:

  • Telemedicine
    • Telemedicine is convenient and safe for all. It saves time, plus physicians are able to see more patients. Although the technology has been in place and utilized in healthcare systems for a long while, progress on widescale implementation that could have potentially taken years occurred in a matter of weeks.
  • Virtual tumor boards and cancer committees
    • Holding meetings virtually increases attendance, saves on resources and is wholly convenient. This may be a larger shift we see in society, where we are now allowed to ask, “Do I need to be there physically?” and “Can I video conference in instead?” Pre-pandemic, attending virtually out of choice may not have been as accepted – and in some cases even frowned upon. This is one development I intend on watching closely to see whether or not this change in culture sticks.

Although the pandemic has brought plenty of negativity, I’m hopeful that the positive changes brought about will be a force for good. Pandemics come and go, they occur nearly every century, and if health preparedness and disaster readiness are prioritized, we can hopefully minimize the effects because of the lessons learned this time around. As we continue to work our way through this pandemic and 2021, I’ll continue doing my part of ensuring that better data saves lives!

« Previous Blog Post Meet February's Registry Rock Star: Celeste
Next Blog Post » World Cancer Day: A Day for Action
About the Author

Caitlin Gallegos, CTR