Sept. 16 (UPI) -- Nearly 60% of people undergoing treatment for lung cancer experienced disruptions in care this spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an analysis to be published Thursday by JAMA Oncology.
Just under 40% of lung cancer patients at a major health system in Canada saw delays or discontinuation of "palliative chemotherapy," while slightly less than 15% had their treatment stopped completely, because of the danger of contracting or spreading the virus, the researchers said.
For some patients, treatment delays incurred between March 2 and May 30 lasted a month or more, the data showed.
"A significant proportion of patients experienced a change or modification in their cancer treatment plan as a direct result of the pandemic," study co-author Dr. Arielle Elkrief told UPI.
"This study shows that the pandemic deeply affected every aspect of lung cancer care, [and] it reinforces the need for hospitals and care units to keep track of these changes and their outcomes," said Elkrief, a resident in medical oncology at McGill University in Montreal.
Approximately 230,000 Americans are diagnosed with lung cancer each year, and more than 130,000 die from the disease annually, according to the American Cancer Society.
In the United States, more than 60% of lung cancer patients surveyed by ACS said that the COVID-19 pandemic had affected their care in some way, while nearly 40% reported treatment delays as a result.
The decision to delay treatment for lung cancer patients was likely made by "patients made in collaboration with their physicians," based on their risk for infection and more severe illness, Elkrief said.
People with lung cancer are at greater risk for serious illness and death from COVID-19, and the effects of chemotherapy on the immune system may place them at increased risk for infection, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
For this study, Elkrief and her colleagues reviewed the cancer treatment of 275 patients receiving care at McGill's thoracic oncology clinic. Of these patients, 211 were undergoing active treatment when the COVID-19 outbreak began in Canada in early March, the researchers said.
Overall, 121 patients -- or 57% -- experienced at least one change in their treatment plan because of the pandemic, and 55% of them were receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy or both, the data showed.
Just over 26% had adjustments made to their treatment dose or schedule, while 3% stopped treatment completely, the researchers said.
Nearly 7% of the patients also had routine follow-up appointments postponed or cancelled, according to the researchers.
"Since no clear evidence has emerged that cancer treatments increase the risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes, evidence-based cancer care should continue to proceed with caution," Elkrief said.
"Now we know which measures need to be taken, and how to prevent virus transmission thanks to clear infection control procedures."