As National Cancer Research Month (May) winds down, it seems timely to reflect on progress in cancer treatments. And that is precisely what we will do this weekend.
This is the weekend Chicago would typically be flooded with more than 40,000 researchers, clinicians, pharmaceutical company reps, media and cancer advocacy organizations as the annual host of the world’s biggest cancer conference. But like all other large events around the globe, the American Society of Clinical Oncology was forced to move their #ASCO20 meeting to a virtual platform. Beginning Friday and running through this weekend, researchers are presenting their latest findings from cancer clinical trials, and cancer professionals from every facet of the field are sharing ideas and pressing for more advocacy on behalf of cancer patients.
The Shadow of COVID-19
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing this change to a virtual format, a prevalent topic has been treating cancer patients amidst the novel coronavirus crisis. ASCO President Howard A. Burris III, MD, FACP, FASCO, opened the meeting this morning with remarks acknowledging that cancer patient are among the most vulnerable to the dangers of this virus. Blood cancer patients are particularly hard hit. A study published in The Lancet and presented by a group of researchers on Friday showed that patients whose cancer was progressing at the time they became afflicted with the COVID-19 virus are at increased risk of death from the virus - more than five times more likely to die within a month.
Further, findings show that treatment with the controversial combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin is also strongly associated with greater risk of death. However, other scientists wordwide are now questioning the findings and data of this massive study so further investigation is clearly needed. (* Update: on June 4 The Lancet announced that the researchers had retracted their studies regarding hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine).
Burris also discussed a COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium registry comprising more than 100 cancer centers collecting data on a large scale of cancer patients impacted by COVID-19.
“The cancer care community urgently needs data on the effects of COVID-19, specifically in patients with cancer,” Burris said “How we improve the care we provide these patients and reduce the number of deaths and severe consequences associated with this disease are among the top questions. The registry contains data from patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and around 40% of patients in the registry also have active cancer.