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Cancer & COVID-19

By Erin E. Stevens, MD, FACOG

Prevea Health Gynecologic Oncologist

Every year in the Spring, Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO) and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) have their annual meetings. It is at these conferences where oncologists have the opportunity to catch up with old friends. More importantly, we learn the results of the latest trials that will improve cancer care for patients.

This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, we met virtually to discuss trial results and to learn about how this novel coronavirus was going to impact our ability to care for cancer patients.

What has come out of these meetings so far in 2020?

Sentinel lymph node biopsy has continued to be validated for endometrial, cervical and vulvar cancers. This approach has decreased the side effect of lower extremity lymphedema while giving gynecologic oncologists the information needed to make the best treatment decisions after surgery.

PARP inhibitors like olaparib, niraparib, rucaparib and veliparib are being used more and more in maintenance therapy after completing front line chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. These are oral medications used to help prevent ovarian cancer from coming back after remission is achieved. While best results have been seen in patients with BRCA mutations, for some of the medications there is a benefit for everyone.

More and more specific mutations, or mistakes the cancer cells have made, are being able to be targeted by drugs. This personalized medicine – the ability to treat the specific mistakes that a patient’s cancer has – is becoming more and more a reality. Newer therapies, including immunotherapies, continue to be studied. While not the panacea we initially hoped, they are treatments that have shown some success on previously untreatable cancers.

And as the novel coronavirus spread worldwide, we met to learn from oncologists and surgeons around the world. Online discussions on how to care for patients infected with the virus as well as how to safely care for cancer patients were held on a near daily basis. This type of real time collaboration and sharing of knowledge was truly unprecedented in the medical community. Usually, we have to wait for conferences or journals publications. Now, we share best practices in real time.

My hope is that this rapid sharing of information to allow all physicians to best care for their patients will continue past the pandemic and spread into all fields of medicine. While I love seeing my friends at these conferences, I want to have access to the newest and best treatments for my patients in real time. This is where I hope we continue to head in the future of medicine and cancer care.

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