As the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City and the Tri-State area begins to subside, oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) are urging patients to schedule cancer screenings and treatments now – as the long-term toll of missed diagnoses and delayed treatments could be devastating for patients and their loved ones across the region and the country.
One preliminary report from the United Kingdom predicts that the significant reduction in cancer care provided during the pandemic will result in nearly 34,000 excess deaths among cancer patients in the United States. Other reports predict thousands of missed or delayed cancer diagnoses due to people putting off screening appointments. According to a recent analysis performed by the Epic Health Research Network, appointments to screen for cervical, colon, and breast cancers were down about 90 percent in March this year, compared to the last three years.
“Cancer hasn’t sheltered in place during this pandemic. Cancer care is essential care, and we don’t want our patients to put their life-saving treatment on hold. We are committed to ensuring that patients have access to the world-class cancer care they expect from MSK, in a safe and healthy environment,” said Lisa M. DeAngelis, MD, MSK’s Physician-in-Chief and Chief Medical Officer. “COVID-19 has impacted the health and well being of our city, the country, and the world, but it has not derailed our mission to provide high-quality, compassionate cancer care for our patients each and every day.”
Here are some of the ways MSK is moving forward in the COVID-19 era:
Safety Precautions for Patients and Staff
MSK is adapting to the challenges COVID-19 presents and is an institution uniquely well-equipped to safely provide exceptional cancer care during this time. Our expertise in best practices for infection control stems from a long history of caring for immunocompromised patients. MSK currently has in place the following strict safety measures:
Growing Telehealth Capacity and Virtual Visitors
MSK has quickly built up its telehealth capacity, which reduces crowding in MSK facilities by allowing patients to access follow-up care remotely from the comfort of their homes, as well as accommodating “virtual visitors” for patients with in-person appointments. MSK went from performing about 100 telehealth visits per day in early March to now more than 1,200 per day, with plans for continued growth as this integral tool used to mitigate COVID-19 in the healthcare setting becomes established industrywide as a best practice.
Leadership in COVID-19 Testing, Treatment
MSK continues to be a leader in COVID-19 testing in an effort to keep patients, staff, and the community safe and healthy. At the beginning of the outbreak in New York City, MSK’s scientists developed a highly effective COVID-19 diagnostic test, and MSK was one of the first hospitals in New York authorized for COVID-19 diagnostic testing. MSK provides regular COVID-19 diagnostic testing to patients and staff, as well as antibody testing to detect prior infections. All surgical patients are tested prior to scheduled procedures; if a patient tests positive, MSK recommends he or she take two to three weeks to clear the virus before proceeding with the procedure.
Hundreds of Memorial Sloan Kettering employees who have recovered from COVID-19 have stepped forward to donate their plasma to treat patients through a clinical trial. Plasma from people who have recovered from a viral infection has long been known to have potentially therapeutic benefits for patients.
Resources for Patients
COVID-19 has created new and unprecedented challenges, but MSK staff are available to answer patients’ questions about what it means for cancer care. Tune into MSK’s recent information sessions, including Creating a Safe Space for Your Cancer Surgery and Breast Cancer and Breast Health, for more information directly from MSK clinicians. This ongoing series will soon cover other cancers as well.Back To Top
MSK Moves Cancer Care Forward During COVID-19 . Appl Rad Oncol.