A consortium of 17 cancer centers in the United States, including the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, have come together to better understand the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic in delaying cancer detection, care and prevention.
The cancer centers are working together with the National Cancer Institute on the impact of the pandemic on the continuum of cancer care, from prevention to survivorship. This work will further examine whether differences in demographics affect cancer prevention and control, cancer management and survivorship during the pandemic.
In addition to the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, which is the coordinating site, participating cancer centers are: the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute (Michigan); the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center; Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center (Iowa); University of Colorado Cancer Center; Stephenson Cancer Center (Oklahoma); UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center (California); Oregon Health & Science University – Knight Cancer Institute; Fred Hutchinson/University of Washington Cancer Consortium; University of Virginia Cancer Center; Huntsman Cancer Institute (Utah); Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (Tennessee); Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center (Florida); Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center/Washington University School of Medicine (Missouri); Markey Cancer Center (Kentucky); the University of Kansas Cancer Center and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is working on this massive collaboration as a direct response to sobering forecasts from the NCI about cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials have warned that the pandemic may have prevented some patients from undergoing needed screenings and hindered access to procedures that could result in late-stage diagnoses and cancer deaths. Delaying cancer screenings, clinical trials and testing during the pandemic could roll back significant gains made in recent years in reducing cancer deaths.
“It is critical to understand the impact of the pandemic on healthy behaviors that are associated with cancer and cancer management so that national, state and local efforts can be adapted to meet the needs of Americans,” said Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., MPH, professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine and the O’Neal Cancer Center’s senior adviser for Globalization and Cancer. “By coming together, these cancer centers will be able to develop and implement cancer prevention and control strategies to combat the ill effects of the pandemic, particularly among medically underserved populations where the pandemic may have exacerbated their unmet health needs.”
Collectively, the cancer centers will conduct surveys among healthy volunteers and cancer survivors nationwide about their health and well-being during the pandemic. The surveys will focus on work and employment, housing/home life, social activities, emotional well-being, physical health and behavior related to COVID-19 prevention, as well as behaviors such as physical activity and tobacco use that have links to cancer. To comply with pandemic restrictions, individuals will be contacted by phone, text and social media.
“Even a short-term delay in screening and care can lead to more deaths,” said Dr. Barry Sleckman, Ph.D., director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB. “A missed diagnosis of cancer now can pose a bigger problem later if it progresses to a later stage, leading to a worse prognosis.”
Monica Baskin, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine and the associate director for the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement, urges patients to continue age-appropriate cancer screenings and to reach out to their health care providers regarding options.
“These are discussions that patients should have directly with their health care provider to receive individual guidance,” Baskin said. “And on the flip side, the COVID-19 reality demands that health care providers and outreach teams learn ways to adapt strategies across the cancer care continuum to combat the deadly secondary effects of the pandemic. This new collaboration is a major effort toward that end.”
A version of this story originally appeared on the UAB News website.