Covid-19 response

Experts keep close eye on cancer care impact

University cancer specialists have helped set up a surveillance scheme to gauge Covid-19’s impact on patients needing urgent care.

The Edinburgh researchers are part of a UK-wide initiative monitoring treatments so that newly emerging risks to patients can be better understood.

Information gathered by experts at the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre is added to a database managed by the newly created UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project.

Any insights gained are quickly fed back to health professionals making front line decisions, so that treatments can be amended accordingly.

Crucial role

One of the Centre’s Clinical Fellows, Karin Purshouse, has been instrumental in setting up the Monitoring Project, which started on 18 March.

The goal is to learn from every UK case of Covid-19 in cancer patients. Until now, there has been little research to inform how cancer treatments might change during the pandemic

Cancer patients are a vulnerable group who must self-isolate. Treatments such as chemotherapy, which suppresses the immune system – as well as the cancer itself – can increase the risk.

Unfolding events

Cancer treatments are evolving as the pandemic unfolds. There has been a move towards remote consultation, less frequent or shorter treatments and a switch from inpatient to outpatient care.

The Edinburgh Centre is tracking changes in patient outcomes – such as mortality rates, cancer control and treatment toxicity – which may prompt further changes to care.

Lessons learned during the pandemic will determine which of these changes should become regular practice in years to come.

Informatics experts

Meanwhile researchers working on the Edinburgh Cancer Informatics Programme, also based at the University, are also using the UK dataset to underpin their Covid-19 responses.

Researchers on the programme work in the emerging discipline of data science, which uses computer technology to draw meaningful insights from vast amounts of information.

The initiative – a UK leader in its field – has instigated a real-time surveillance strategy that will help NHS staff to make rapid adjustments to treatments that improve patient care.

The programme involves specialists from the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre and the Edinburgh Cancer Centre, which is based at the Western General Hospital.

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There is very little robust research to help us understand how cancer should be managed differently during the pandemic. Many cancer centres are changing or delaying treatment, which may have unknown consequences.

Dr Peter HallReader and Consultant Medical Oncologist

The UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project

Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre

Edinburgh Cancer Centre

[Image: Asawin_Klabma/Getty Images]