UH Seidman Cancer Center Responds to the Unique Challenges COVID-19 Presents for Immunocompromised Patients
July 13, 2020
Patient safety paramount during the pandemic
Innovations in Cancer | Summer 2020 issue
Cancer care has changed in the era of COVID-19, but UH Seidman Cancer Center has remained a constant in the lives of cancer patients throughout Northeast Ohio.
“We’ve adapted with the times,” says Ted Teknos, MD, President, UH Seidman Cancer Center; and Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. “It’s remarkable to see how quickly our cancer center has moved to meet the needs of newly diagnosed cancer patients. Despite the COVID pandemic, care for this vulnerable population has never been safer, nor more compassionate.”
Early investigations indicate that cancer patients are twice as likely to be infected by COVID-19, twice as likely to end up in an ICU and face up to four times the mortality rates of the general population. The patient populations with the highest mortality rates are those with lung cancers and hematologic malignancies.
“Based on those risks posed by COVID-19 to the safety of our cancer patients, dramatic changes in the physical plant and approach to care had to be rapidly implemented overnight,” Dr. Teknos says.
Safeguards at UH Seidman
UH Seidman Cancer Center at UH’s main campus looks different to anyone arriving there for appointments. Every single person, including patients, staff and physicians, is screened for temperature and flu-like symptoms and masked. No one is allowed to congregate in waiting areas, and a clear shield protects the people working at the registration desk. All seating is spaced six feet apart to ensure strict physical distancing. Patients are not allowed to bring anyone with them to appointments.
Exceptions are only made in end-of-life situations, or on the day of a cancer patient’s surgery.
Before essential cancer surgery, patients are tested for COVID-19, as even asymptomatic patients can test positive. Patients continue to be enrolled in clinical trials, often through Zoom or Skype. One Phase 1 trial for solid tumor patients has been expanded to include COVID-19 patients, as the treatment has both anti-cancer and anti-viral properties.
“Treatment has only been delayed when disease team experts reach consensus that a 4-6 week pause in therapy will not adversely affect a patient’s ultimate disease outcome,” Dr. Teknos says.
For cancer patients with symptoms of COVID-19, UH Seidman has created a COVID Rule-out Clinic, separate from the main Emergency Department, to care for this more vulnerable population. Through this clinic, staff can obtain the necessary bloodwork, COVID-19 testing and imaging exams.
“We try to keep our cancer patients out of the EDs through this special clinic,” Dr. Teknos says. “When patients are virus-free, we get them back on their road to recovery from cancer.”
Imagining the New Normal
Dr. Teknos says social distancing and other measures will relax when we can see who has immunity to the virus, which is anticipated in those who have been exposed to and recovered from COVID-19.
“I think our world is going to be very different,” he says. “It will be challenging to completely return to normal without a vaccine or effective therapy.”
For now, his biggest worry is that cancer patients may let their guard down and fail to seek care for worrisome symptoms.
“Our message during the pandemic must be clear,” he says. “Health care is still open. Cancer centers are continuing to save lives. Please do not delay seeking the care you need.”
To reach Dr. Ted Teknos or a UH Seidman Cancer Center specialist, call 216-553-1240.