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ASCO Issues Comprehensive Recommendations to Strengthen Cancer Care and Research During and Beyond the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dec 21, 2020

ASCO has issued comprehensive recommendations to guide the cancer community’s eventual recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. By applying lessons learned during the pandemic, ASCO’s Road to Recovery Report: Learning from the COVID-19 Experience to Improve Clinical Research and Cancer Care intends to make cancer care and research opportunities more accessible to and equitable for patients in every community. Importantly, ASCO aims, with its recommendations, to address long-standing cancer care disparities that have been highlighted by the pandemic.

“When the pandemic is over, patients deserve more than a return to the way things were before COVID-19. We have an opportunity to provide better care to everyone with cancer drawing from the insights we’ve gained during the pandemic,” said 2020-2021 ASCO president Lori J. Pierce, MD, FASTRO, FASCO. “Cancer care is marked by the same inequities as our society at large. To emerge from the pandemic stronger, we have to make sure every patient can benefit from advances in cancer research and care.”

To develop the recommendations, ASCO established volunteer task forces that focused on cancer care delivery and cancer research. Comprised of ASCO member physicians and other cancer care professionals and patient advocates, the task forces evaluated responses to COVID-19 made by federal and state governments, health plans, providers and others to understand the impact of the pandemic on cancer care and research. Based on this assessment and lessons learned, the task forces highlighted opportunities to strengthen both the cancer care delivery system and cancer clinical trials beyond the pandemic. Their recommendations, approved by ASCO’s Board of Directors, were published in ASCO’s Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO).

The ASCO report details how the COVID-19 pandemic has put significant pressure on the cancer care system. Providers and researchers have had to adapt quickly—often with coordination or support from policymakers and payers—to minimize disruptions to patients’ care. To date, most patients who were already in treatment have continued to receive care, thanks to the swift expansion of telemedicine, implementation of new COVID-19 safety protocols, and other steps to prevent COVID-19 exposure. Similarly, patients already enrolled in clinical trials have largely been able to continue their participation. Newly diagnosed patients, however, have sometimes faced delays in starting care.

ASCO’s comprehensive recommendations fall into two broad categories: cancer care delivery and clinical cancer research. Some are directed at specific bodies, such as Congress or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, while others require action from a combination of stakeholders, including ASCO.

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