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Oncologists Need to Advocate for Scarce COVID-19 Resources: ASCO

He says that during the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns regarding public health transcend the well-being of individual patients and that consideration must be given to providing the maximum benefit to the greatest number of people.

“That makes perfect sense and is the appropriate and laudable goal during a public health emergency like this…but one of the challenges is that there is this belief that a diagnosis of cancer is uniformly fatal,”Marron said.

“It’s certainly conceivable that it would be a better use of resources to give the last ventilator to a young, otherwise healthy patient rather than a patient with multiply recurrent progressive metastatic cancer,” he continued. “However, we want to ensure that there is at least a discussion where that information is made available, rather than just saying, ‘She’s got cancer. She’s a lost cause.’ “

Cancer Patients Are Doing Very Well

Concerns about cancer misconceptions have been circulating in the oncology community since the start of the pandemic. “It’s really important that people understand that cancer patients are doing very well nowadays, and even with a diagnosis of cancer, they can potentially live for many years,” Anne Chiang, MD, PhD, from the Smilow Cancer Network, New Haven, Connecticut, told Medscape Medical News in a recent interview.

Thus far, even in hard-hit New York City, fears that cancer patients may not be receiving appropriate care have not materialized, according to Mark Robson, MD, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). “I would emphasize that cancer patients are ABSOLUTELY getting the care they need, including patients with metastatic disease,” he recently tweeted. “NOONE at @sloan_kettering (or anywhere else) is being ‘triaged’ because of advanced cancer. Period.”

Robson told Medscape Medical News that although MSKCC continues to provide oncology care to patients with cancer, “we are [also] treating them if they develop COVID…. I am trying to help pivot the institution towards care in this setting.”

He said he agrees with Craig Spencer, MD, MPH, director of global health in emergency medicine at the New York–Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, who recently tweeted, “If you need a ventilator, you get a ventilator. Let’s be clear – this isn’t being ‘rationed.’ “

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