Weighing the Risks and Benefits of Colorectal Cancer Treatment During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Despite the impact that COVID-19 is having on cancer treatment schedules, one expert stresses the importance of staying the course not just for an individual’s benefit, but for the health of others.

To comment on what he’s seeing in practice at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and in his work with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, CURE® spoke with Dr. Christopher Lieu, who offered some tips on how patients with colorectal cancer can navigate the novel coronavirus crisis.

“What’s going on right now is completely unprecedented,” said Lieu. “We’re learning along with our patients more about the virus and how to combat it, and the impact of COVID-19 on our patients.”

In determining what’s best for each of his patients, Lieu explained that the conversations focus on risks of exposing patients to possible infection versus the benefits of treatment. But as he noted, “Cancer doesn’t care if there’s a pandemic or not. Cancer’s not going to stop just because we’re dealing with a pandemic and our patients understand that better than anybody.”

Despite the impact that COVID-19 is having on treatment schedules and the anxiety that self-imposed isolation can cause, Lieu stresses the importance of staying the course not just for an individual’s benefit, but for the health of others.

“The real take-home message here is that even if your risk for developing COVID-19 is really low, by doing some of these things, not only are you protecting yourself and those that are close to you, but you really could be saving the life of someone you’ve never met before,” said Lieu.

“If you think about it that way, it provides a lot of motivation to do these things and do them right.”

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For patients with cancer, the ongoing chemotherapy shortage may cause some anxiety as they wonder how they will receive their drugs. However, measuring drugs “down to the minutiae of the milligrams” helped patients receive the drugs they needed, said Alison Tray. Tray is an advanced oncology certified nurse practitioner and current vice president of ambulatory operations at Rutgers Cancer Institute in New Jersey.  If patients are concerned about getting their cancer drugs, Tray noted that having “an open conversation” between patients and providers is key.  “As a provider and a nurse myself, having that conversation, that reassurance and sharing the information is a two-way conversation,” she said. “So just knowing that we're taking care of you, we're going to make sure that you receive the care that you need is the key takeaway.” In June 2023, many patients were unable to receive certain chemotherapy drugs, such as carboplatin and cisplatin because of an ongoing shortage. By October 2023, experts saw an improvement, although the “ongoing crisis” remained.  READ MORE: Patients With Lung Cancer Face Unmet Needs During Drug Shortages “We’re really proud of the work that we could do and achieve that through a critical drug shortage,” Tray said. “None of our patients missed a dose of chemotherapy and we were able to provide that for them.” Tray sat down with CURE® during the 49th Annual Oncology Nursing Society Annual Congress to discuss the ongoing chemo shortage and how patients and care teams approached these challenges. Transcript: Particularly at Hartford HealthCare, when we established this infrastructure, our goal was to make sure that every patient would get the treatment that they need and require, utilizing the data that we have from ASCO guidelines to ensure that we're getting the optimal high-quality standard of care in a timely fashion that we didn't have to delay therapies. So, we were able to do that by going down to the minutiae of the milligrams on hand, particularly when we had a lot of critical drug shortages. So it was really creating that process to really ensure that every patient would get the treatment that they needed. For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.
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