Intended for healthcare professionals


Covid-19 is shattering US cancer care

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: (Published 17 April 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m1544

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  1. Bryn Nelson, science journalist
  1. Seattle, WA, USA
  1. bdnelson{at}

American oncologists are rushing to prioritise the patients at greatest risk, institute new protections, and learn from their collective experiences, Bryn Nelson reports

A patient in Washington, newly diagnosed with breast cancer, fought to get her lumpectomy surgery rescheduled after it was cancelled indefinitely.1 A stuffy nose required another patient in Massachusetts with a recurrent brain tumour to undergo multiple layers of screening before he could receive his immunotherapy infusion.2 A patient with bladder cancer in North Carolina couldn’t get immunotherapy at all because of a lack of surgical masks and gloves.3 Then he was denied a surgical alternative because he needed a covid-19 test first. Since he hadn’t been admitted to a hospital with serious covid-19 symptoms, he didn’t meet the testing criteria.

Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on cancer care throughout the US as medical centres scramble to cancel or rearrange surgeries or treatments, tackle a continuing shortage of tests and supplies, and devise new safety protocols to protect a highly susceptible patient group.

“Cancer patients are the poster child for that vulnerable, high risk population,” Gary Lyman, senior lead for healthcare quality and policy in the Hutchinson Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, told …

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