“As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic escalates and countries struggle to contain the virus, health-care systems are under increasing pressure. Emergency departments and intensive care units are nearing breaking point, and medical resources are being diverted to tackle the crisis. Moreover, conferences are being cancelled, and research trials are grinding to a halt. So what does COVID-19 mean for patients with cancer, their physicians, and the wider oncology discipline?” the article questions.
Cancer patients are a high-risk population in the pandemic and have much more to lose if they sustain the virus—including worse complications and a greater mortality risk. Patients who do develop COVID-19 may have their cancer treatments delayed in the wake of treating the virus, although these decisions are made on a patient-by-patient basis. Quarantines are also preventing patients from making it to scheduled appointments and posing challenges when it comes to obtaining essential medicines.
The effects of COVID-19 in the oncology sphere go beyond just patient repercussions and also affect research, education, and collaboration. University campuses have already closed down, with more following suit, switching to digital operations for the time being. While this works for learning and exams for students, practical lab work and field studies cannot operate in this fashion; some research projects have been suspended, and institutions will have to make difficult decisions as to which clinical trials will receive priority and which will be suspended in the midst of limited funding.
At the time of the article’s publishing, at least eight cancer-related conferences and meetings had also been cancelled, resulting in lost opportunities for collaboration and sharing the latest research. The societies and organizations that planned these meetings will also suffer significant financial losses as a result of the lost revenue from the cancelled meetings. Smaller societies that rely on income generated through meetings and related activities may be compromised entirely.
Given that the pandemic poses constant changes, it is difficult to predict its long-term effects. The article concludes by saying, “Ultimately, the situation might lead to substantial changes in how research and medicine are practiced in the future, such as reduced international travel and increased remote networking and telemedicine. Until the COVID-19 pandemic is over, we can only hope that the consequences are not too devastating for patients and that the oncology community and beyond are able to weather this unprecedented storm.”