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A CTR’s Perspective on CHAMPS Oncology’s “COVID-19’s Impact on Cancer Data” Talk
covid episode

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching CHAMPS Oncology’s BrightTALK presentation, “COVID-19’s Impact on Cancer Data.” Hosted by CHAMPS Oncology’s director of client operations Vontyna Smith, the episode featured a variety of oncology experts – Dr. Serban Negoita, chief of the Data Quality, Analysis and Interpretation Branch at the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Oguzhan Alagoz, Breast CISNET modeler for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Karen Schmidt, CTR, vice president of CHAMPS Oncology. During the presentation, the panel discussed key takeaways from the COVID-19 pandemic, long-term effects on cancer survival rates and the impact of COVID-19 on cancer statistics.

I was looking forward to the event because I knew I would get concrete input on the pandemic’s effects on the industry I work in as a certified tumor registrar (CTR). For months now, I’ve been interested in learning whether or not this pandemic has had the impact that the registry had initially anticipated in the spring when it hit the United States. I was also curious about whether or not the pandemic’s impact was worse than originally estimated, what the potential lingering effects are and what steps the registry should take to prepare for what comes next.

In the opening segment, Dr. Negoita noted that the current data collection systems are highly standardized but not highly agile for changing or updating new issues quickly. The pandemic demonstrates the need to add additional data fields for monitoring the impact on cancer patients and the inability of current methods to accommodate these changes. If data collection systems are adapted to meet the immediate needs of national and state health departments, it will lead to a demand on registrars to be even more flexible than they already are in an always-changing field. In my eyes, these updates are vital for timely statistics and evaluation, but they could lead to more mistakes within the registry world when trying to capture this data.

Schmidt mentioned that in the beginning of the pandemic, CHAMPS worked with several cancer registry database software companies, and, in early April, they were able to implement two additional data fields within the patient abstract. One field captures COVID-19 test results, while the other documents if the patient treatment plan was affected due to the pandemic. This small addition is providing extremely valuable data in evaluating the impact of COVID-19 early on during the pandemic.

As the discussion continued, Dr. Alagoz made an incredibly pertinent note, explaining that cancer diagnoses were down due to COVID-19 fears. The causes of this drop were said to be due to delayed screening by patients’ choice from fear of exposure or due to facilities redirecting resources from cancer care to other areas for pandemic needs. A study hypothesized that if 75% of women skipped or delayed breast mammograms for 6 months it would lead to an additional 5,000 deaths over the next 10 years. This will lead to a dramatic increase in excess caseload within the next two to three years and add an additional strain on cancer registry resources. A potential increase workload will cause an even greater delay in abstracting and providing the data in a timely manner.

Dr. Negoita then discussed that standardized data collection is vital in measuring the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients. He stated that providing high-quality statistics and helping the public interpret the data is central to their mission. The change in cancer incidence patterns and trends will be related to a possible decrease in the quality of data. It is unknown if these changes are temporary or related to the quality of data acquisition, or if it is due to real changes in the way oncology care is delivered. As a CTR, it is my responsibility to ensure that each abstract is thoroughly complete. In this era of uncertainty, it is vital that I provide the best quality data to these organizations that make decisions impacting millions of cancer patients. CHAMPS’ motto rings true, especially during this period of COVID-19: Better Data Saves Lives.

After the panel, Dr. Negoita was asked if there are additional data fields that should be collected to ensure that teams have what they need in the future. A lot of the time, only new patients are captured in a given registry, but they are a small portion of the overall number of cancer survivor cases. In regards to COVID-19’s impact, recurrences and mortalities may be a better indicator than new patients. That raises the question: What is COVID-19’s impact on cancer survivors?

Dr. Negoita explained that linking the registry data with medical claims and COVID-19 databases will be important to understand the extent of impact COVID-19 has had. Schmidt mentioned that based on CHAMPS data, there's been a drop in cancer diagnoses and treatment numbers – up to a 25% decrease in diagnoses at some facilities, with delayed treatments or changes in typical treatment methods. That indicates we're in the calm before the storm, and the registry will need to be aware of the probable significant increase in caseload in the near future, with more patients being diagnosed with later stages of the disease due to delay in diagnosis and treatment.

Dr. Negoita wrapped up the questions portion by noting that while survival estimates are a key statistic, the first indicator of the pandemic on the outcomes of cancer may be earlier indicators, including mortality, time to recurrence or time to death. It is more important now than ever before that our casefinding and follow-up efforts look for these patients that may otherwise fall through the cracks. While COVID-19 may have temporarily decreased our caseload, it has increased the need for us to document the details for each patient. Our data will be used not only for future cancer care but also for COVID-19 impact and treatment in cancer patients.

Looking at the presentation as a whole, I learned so much from viewing the panel. It helped me understand how our data is being used for evaluating cancer patients during this unprecedented pandemic. Hearing what current issues are being faced and how the registry is being impacted allows us to anticipate future needs and prepare accordingly. If you’re like me, someone who is interested in hearing about COVID-19’s impact on cancer data from industry experts, you can watch the presentation on-demand on BrightTALK.

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About the Author

Florence Wells, CTR