More than 1,000 cancer surgeries have been delayed in New York City and other treatments put on hold as hospitals are treating coronavirus cases.
Gov. Cuomo’s order last month that hospitals cancel elective surgeries forced cancer centers to determine what could safely be put off.
Doctors generally use a risk-benefit analysis based on guidelines put out by the governing societies of their individual specialities, said Dr. Arnold Baskies, chairman of the Global Cancer Control Advisory Council for the American Cancer Society.
“If we delay the surgery a few weeks will this make a difference?” Baskies said. “Often times it won’t.”
At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center on the Upper East Side that meant at least 1,000 surgeries have been postponed as its operating rooms were converted to ICUs for COVID-19 patients.
The hospital treated hundreds of people already under its care who fell ill with the bug as well as staff members, said Dr. Jeffrey Drebin, chairman of surgery.
It also took in several dozen patients from other city hospitals including a woman from the overwhelmed Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx who needed a cancer operation.
“We tried to be good citizens and to the extent that we have had a little less of an overwhelming experience as some, we’ve tried to share the burden,” Drebin said.
Drebin said the hospital was now ready to begin scheduling delayed operations although some patients were hesitant, preferring to wait a bit longer.
“I think there’s balance between the fear of cancer and the fear of covid, which is not incorrect,” he said. “And actually we’re doing a number of things to try to make this as safe for our patients as we can.”
All patients will be tested for COVID-19 before surgery and it will be delayed again if they have the virus, he said.
At NYU Langone Medical Center, in addition to delaying surgeries, patient visits were done remotely through telemedicine to determine if it was necessary for an in-person trip. The number of people participating in clinical trials has dropped by half, said Dr. Benjamin Neel, the director of the Perlmutter Cancer Center.
“We’re going to start some surgeries next week under very carefully controlled conditions,” Neel said. “We’re trying to aim for the procedures that are really ripe to be done and also don’t require long hospitalizations.”
Neel said the hospital was seeing fewer cases of leukemia and lymphoma than it normally would, perhaps because people were afraid of getting the cornavirus in the hospital.
“We are very confident that no one is dying from cancer because they’re not getting treated,” he said. “We’re more concerned about people not coming in and getting to the point where we can’t help them.”
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