Cancer care and screenings must remain a priority during COVID-19

Nation’s top cancer hospital remains committed to providing patients high-level, safe care

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is committed to safely providing patient care and cancer screenings throughout the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In light of emerging research showing many people are delaying cancer screenings and other health care needs, MD Anderson is reminding both cancer patients and the healthy public that it is safe to keep scheduled appointments for active treatment or routine care.

“We know cancer doesn’t stop – even during a global pandemic,” said Peter WT Pisters, M.D., president of MD Anderson. “Our patient population represents the largest and densest immunocompromised population in the world. We are committed to providing exceptional cancer care, and that includes going above and beyond to create the safest possible environment for our patients and our workforce.”

Cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 because their immune systems are compromised due to disease and/or treatment. From the beginning, MD Anderson’s COVID-19 precautions have been guided by three principles:

  1. Protect our patients.
  2. Ensure the health of our workforce.
  3. Reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our community.

“It’s safe to receive cancer care and treatment at MD Anderson,” said Rosanna Morris, chief operating officer at
MD Anderson. “When patients come to MD Anderson, they are greeted by teams screening for COVID-19 symptoms and providing masks. We want anyone in our institution to feel absolutely confident they’re in a safe place, even when there’s a pandemic going on outside.”       

COVID-19 safety precautions

MD Anderson began monitoring and educating patients and employees about the pandemic in January, and began implementing measures to protect against the spread of COVID-19 in February. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 1.2 million COVID-19 screenings have been performed across all MD Anderson locations.

Key precautions include:

  • Verbally screening for COVID-19 symptoms
  • Quickly detecting elevated skin temperatures using no-contact thermal imaging technology as people walk into the building
  • Wearing medical-grade masks provided by MD Anderson
  • Practicing social distancing guidelines

COVID-19 nasal swab testing is performed onsite for symptomatic patients and employees. MD Anderson also provides asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to patients and employees, as evidence has shown it’s possible to transmit the virus before showing symptoms. To ensure safety, all patients are required to have a COVID-19 test before their new patient appointment, surgery, and certain procedures and treatments. Employees can request asymptomatic COVID-19 testing for themselves for any reason.

Clinical trials continue to be a priority at MD Anderson. Toward the beginning of the pandemic and out of an abundance of caution, many clinical trials were modified to use remote monitoring and virtual care. Now, more than 900 clinical trials have reopened for enrollment.

To further protect our patients and employees, and to reduce the spread of infection, MD Anderson has limited visitors on campus, expanded virtual patient care options and transitioned employees in non-patient care roles to remote work. Clinics and operating rooms have expanded hours to space out appointments and to lower the number of people on campus at one time. Additional COVID-19 precautions are shared on our dedicated coronavirus website.

Importance of cancer screenings and preventive care

Recent research has shown that new cancer diagnoses have declined since the beginning of the pandemic, possibly due to delayed cancer screenings and other routine health care appointments. A model from the National Cancer Institute estimated that delayed diagnoses due to the COVID-19 pandemic could result in 10,000 excess deaths from breast and colorectal cancer over the next 10 years.

Cancer screening exams help find cancer early, when the chances for successfully treating the disease are greatest.
MD Anderson offers screening exams for several different types of cancer, including mammograms for breast cancer, colonoscopy for colorectal cancer, and skin cancer exams at multiple Houston-area locations.

“Cancer screenings may not be top of mind at the moment, but if you’ve been putting off a recommended screening exam, now is the time to make it a priority,” said Therese Bevers, M.D., medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center. “Delaying recommended cancer screenings may result in missed early-stage cancers that aren’t caught until they’re already more advanced, and potentially more difficult to treat.”

Whether or not you’ve ever faced a cancer diagnosis, it’s important to pay attention to changes in your body and symptoms that may indicate something is wrong. Common symptoms that could indicate cancer or another problem and should be brought to your doctor’s attention include: a mass or lump, unexplained weight loss, pain, change in bowel or bladder habits, a sore that doesn’t heal, a persistent cough, or unusual bleeding or discharge.

“We don’t want people to be diagnosed with cancers at later stages because they avoided visiting the doctor due to COVID-19,” Bevers said. “We are providing a safe environment so you can feel protected from COVID-19 while taking care of your cancer risk, too.”