From the Journals

Managing gynecologic cancers during the COVID-19 pandemic



To manage patients with gynecologic cancers, oncologists in the United States and Europe are recommending reducing outpatient visits, delaying surgeries, prolonging chemotherapy regimens, and generally trying to keep cancer patients away from those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We recognize that, in this special situation, we must continue to provide our gynecologic oncology patients with the highest quality of medical services,” Pedro T. Ramirez, MD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and associates wrote in an editorial published in the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer.

At the same time, the authors added, the safety of patients, their families, and medical staff needs to be assured.

Dr. Ramirez and colleagues’ editorial includes recommendations on how to optimize the care of patients with gynecologic cancers while prioritizing safety and minimizing the burden to the healthcare system. The group’s recommendations outline when surgery, radiotherapy, and other treatments might be safely postponed and when they need to proceed out of urgency.

Some authors of the editorial also described their experiences with COVID-19 during a webinar on managing patients with advanced ovarian cancer, which was hosted by the European Society of Gynaecological Oncology (ESGO).

A lack of resources

In Spain, health resources “are collapsed” by the pandemic, editorial author Luis Chiva, MD, said during the webinar.

At his institution, the Clínica Universidad de Navarra in Madrid, 98% of the 1,500 intensive care beds were occupied by COVID-19 patients at the end of March. So the hope was to be able to refer their patients to other communities where there may still be some capacity.

Another problem in Spain is the high percentage of health workers infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. More than 15,000 health workers were recently reported to be sick or self-isolating, which is around 14% of the health care workforce in the country.

Dr. Chiva noted that this puts those treating gynecologic cancers in a difficult position. On the one hand, surgery to remove a high-risk ovarian mass should not be delayed, but the majority of hospitals in Spain simply cannot perform this type of surgery during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, due to this specific situation, almost, I would say in 80%-90% of hospitals, we are only able to carry out emergency surgical procedures,” Dr. Chiva said. That’s general emergency procedures such as appendectomies, removing blockages, and dealing with hemorrhages, not gynecologic surgeries. “It’s almost impossible to schedule the typical oncological cases,” he said.

Even with the Hospital IFEMA now set up at the Feria de Madrid, which is usually used to host large-scale events, there are “minimal options for performing standard oncological surgery,” Dr. Chiva said. He estimated that just 5% of hospitals in Spain are able to perform oncologic surgeries as normal, with maybe 15% able to offer surgery without the backup of postsurgical intensive care.


“This is really an unusual time for us,” commented Jonathan Ledermann, MD, vice president of ESGO and a professor of medical oncology at University College London, who moderated the webinar.


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