How cancer clinical trials have changed during the pandemic

Though patient enrollment in clinical trials for cancer therapies has slowed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some institutions have halted trials altogether, other trials are continuing with modified protocols, according to STAT News.

At Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, cancer trials continue, but now every patient is screened for COVID-19 symptoms and asked about contact with anyone with COVID-19. The waiting room has been rearranged to prevent patients from sitting close to one another. Chemotherapy schedules for some patients was changed from weekly to every three weeks, and physicians began using video conferencing to discuss image scans instead of discussing them in person.

"We said, 'look, we've got to go in to see our patients because they've got cancer. They want to continue to be treated in the same way,'" Ursula Matulonis, MD, chief of gynecologic oncology at Dana-Farber told STAT. "We have a job to do, and we have to continue to do that job."

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City did not put any therapeutic trials on hold, but in-clinic volume decreased by about 75 percent in March and April. Telemedicine helped the cancer center keep up with patients virtually, Paul Sabbatini, MD, deputy physician-in-chief for clinical research at Memorial Sloan Kettering told STAT.

And now patients are coming back as COVID-19 cases decline in New York City, Dr. Sabbatini said.

Margaret Mooney, MD, associate director of the cancer therapy evaluation program at the Bethesda, Md.-based National Cancer Institute, told STAT that the change in protocols for cancer trials may prompt long-term adjustments.

"Some of the adaptations we've made have made all of us realize that perhaps there is better use we can make of technology — telemedicine or technologies like that — to take care of the patient. That’s a benefit to everyone, and they may be things that we can continue into the future once the public health emergency, as we all hope, has been resolved," Dr. Mooney told STAT.

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