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Treating Your Prostate Cancer During The Pandemic

Treating Your Prostate Cancer During The Pandemic – A team of radiation oncologists has devised recommendations and a framework for managing radiotherapy in prostate cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The framework involves using remote visits via telemedicine, avoiding radiotherapy in applicable cases, deferring radiotherapy as appropriate, and shortening the fractionation schedule of treatment based on safety and efficacy parameters.

Nicholas G. Zaorsky, MD, of Penn State Cancer Institute in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and colleagues described the framework and recommendations in Advances in Radiation Oncology.

The authors systematically reviewed the body of literature for evidence pertaining to the safe use of telemedicine, avoidance or deferral of radiotherapy, and optimal use of androgen deprivation therapy for patients with prostate cancer. The team also reviewed best practices for patients undergoing radiotherapy based on disease risk.

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Based on their findings, Dr. Zaorsky and colleagues recommended that, during the pandemic, all consultations and return visits become telehealth visits. “Very few prostate cancer patients require an in-person visit during a pandemic,” the authors wrote.

Lower-Risk Disease

Dr. Zaorsky and colleagues recommended avoiding radiotherapy in patients with very-low-, low-, and favorable intermediate-risk disease. The authors said data suggest that, in general, treatment can be safely deferred in these patients “until after pandemic-related restrictions have been lifted.”

However, this recommendation presumes the pandemic will wane over the next 12 months.

“I reassure my patients with very-low- and low-risk prostate cancer that the preferred, evidence-based treatment for patients in these categories is active surveillance,” said study author Amar U. Kishan, MD, of the University of California, Los Angeles.

“If surveillance is an option, then delaying treatment must be reasonable [during the pandemic],” he added. “For favorable intermediate-risk disease, I [review] the data supporting this approach and discuss that short delays are very unlikely to compromise outcomes.”

Higher-Risk Disease

The authors recommended deferral of radiotherapy for 4-6 months in patients with higher-risk disease, which includes those with unfavorable intermediate-risk, high-risk, very-high-risk, clinical node-positive, oligometastatic, and low-volume M1 disease, as well as patients who have undergone prostatectomy.

The authors noted that in-person consultations and return visits should be converted to “timely remote telehealth visits” for these patients. After these patients have started treatment, androgen deprivation therapy “can allow for further deferral of radiotherapy as necessary based on the nature of the ongoing epidemic.”

In cases where radiotherapy cannot be deferred safely, “the shortest fractionation schedule should be adopted that has evidence of safety and efficacy,” the authors wrote.

They acknowledged that these recommendations are only applicable to patients not infected with COVID-19. In cases of suspected or confirmed COVID-19, local institutional policies and practices should be followed.

The authors further explained that, due to the rapidly evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, state and federal guidelines should be followed when made available.

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