Lessons learned at cancer centers in China may help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in U.S. hospitals

China, where the original COVID-19 outbreak occurred and has since been contained, offers a potential model for caring for cancer patients during this pandemic.

Without the benefit of scientific studies to guide treatment protocols, it is important to learn from the experiences of those ahead of us in the COVID-19 outbreak. China, where the original COVID-19 outbreak occurred and has since been contained, offers a potential model for caring for cancer patients during this pandemic.

According to doctors at the National Cancer Center/Cancer Hospital, Chinese Academy of Sciences mandated and carried out measures that prevented the spread of COVID-19 among cancer patients while allowing them to continue to receive therapy. These steps, which allowed Chinese hospitals to offer quality cancer care in the midst of an infectious outbreak that targets the medically fragile, included:

  • Giving patients on-site temperature screening at multiple points
  • Limiting the flow of people within a hospital, achieved by offering online appointments where feasible as well as online consultation channels to assist patients with medication instructions and symptom management
  • Monitoring patients for cough and fever and performing routine blood tests and CT scans of the lungs to look for pneumonia before admission to the cancer hospital, as well as giving specific COVID-19 tests to those with signs of pneumonia
  • Altering the administration of chemotherapeutic drugs when possible (Some chemotherapy drugs traditionally administered intravenously were offered orally, while some intravenously administered chemotherapy drugs were given less frequently, reducing the number of cancer center visits.)

With appropriate adaptations, Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) has taken many of the steps taken in China to protect the safety of its patients from COVID-19 infection while continuing to provide critical and time-sensitive cancer treatments. For instance, we have added measures to screen patients before leaving their homes. Patients with concerning symptoms are directed to local physicians for evaluation prior to coming to CTCA®. Upon arrival, patients are then screened using multiple on-site temperature tests.

CTCA also has taken actions to reduce the flow of people at our cancer centers. We have switched some treatments to oral equivalent drugs and offer immunotherapy at U.S. Federal Drug Administration-approved high dosages in order to lengthen the time between visits. Scheduling has been shifted to online or telephone. Personnel with the ability to work remotely have been identified and moved to remote locations. And telehealth visits allow patients who are on oral therapies or require routine care to visit a clinician without having to leave home.

And hospital access has been strictly limited to one caregiver for outpatient visits and no visitors for inpatients, and everyone, including hospital personnel, is a wearing face mask at all times (employees with no direct patient contact are wearing cloth face coverings). While the caregiver limits present an emotional burden for patients and their caregivers, they are vital in helping to prevent COVID-19 exposure and spread to this vulnerable population. 

If you are a cancer survivor or in active treatment and are concerned about how the COVID-19 situation may impact you or your care, please contact your care team.

Learn how people with no symptoms may still spread COVID-19.