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Nationwide Effort to Address Covid-19's Impact on Cancer Prevention and Treatment

HCI cancer campus
Huntsman Cancer Institute.
A group of 17 cancer centers around the country have banded together in a major new initiative to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting cancer care and prevention.

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah will play a key role in this consortium. The cancer centers are working together with the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to examine and address effects of COVID-19 on cancer prevention and control, cancer management, and survivorship during the pandemic.

The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham will lead coordination on this initiative in direct response to sobering cancer-related forecasts from the NCI. For example, early in the pandemic many medical appointments that were not emergent were cancelled or postponed. These included cancer screenings such as mammograms and colonoscopy. Therefore, some cancers may now be diagnosed at later, more aggressive stages. Scientists also worry the COVID-19 pandemic may have significant impacts on cancer incidence, quality of life and survivorship, and deaths.

This consortium hopes to address these challenges head-on. It will conduct assessments of healthy volunteers and cancer survivors nationwide. These assessments 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 cancer-related behaviors.

HCI has launched a survey of more than 10,000 of its cancer patients to gather data for this effort. "The COVID-19 pandemic affects cancer patients in a multitude of ways," says Neli Ulrich, PhD, executive director of the comprehensive cancer center at HCI and professor of population health sciences at the U of U. "We hope to learn more about their health care, health behaviors, social support, and well-being under the challenges of COVID and physical distancing guidelines. Their answers will guide us in best supporting our patients through this complex time, for example through remote symptom care and ensuring that cancer screening continues."

The vast geographic representation of participating organizations may yield valuable insights about COVID-19 in different populations. "We are looking forward to working with the larger consortium and other groups in understanding the factors that affect patient care and well-being, and will bring new knowledge from our unique catchment area back to them," says Tracy Onega, senior director of population sciences at HCI and professor of population health sciences at the U of U. "More than 30% of HCI patients come from rural areas. Their experiences during the pandemic will help us make a difference as we work to understand the impact of COVID-19 and cancer among the populations we serve.

In addition to the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and HCI, other participating institutions include 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), Knight Cancer Institute (Oregon), Fred Hutchinson/University of Washington Cancer Consortium, University of Virginia Cancer Center, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (Tennessee), Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center (Florida), Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center (Missouri), Markey Cancer Center (Kentucky), The University of Kansas Cancer Center, and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Cancer touches all of us.