Cancer care in a pandemic – a framework for the future

Release Date

Cancer Australia today announced the publication of an Australian first – Cancer care in the time of COVID-19: A conceptual framework for the management of cancer during a pandemic.

An estimated 400 people will be diagnosed with cancer in Australia every day in 2020. 

There is emerging evidence that cancer patients are at increased risk of serious COVID-19 infection. Whilst social distancing measures have been effective in ‘flattening the curve,’ the measures have also introduced challenges for the management of cancer patients.

The new Cancer Australia framework is intended as a thought-piece to promote discussion and guide considerations and strategies for decision-making on cancer care during a pandemic, in accordance with the principles of the Optimal Care Pathways for people with cancer.

Professor Dorothy Keefe, CEO Cancer Australia, said that when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in March 2020, planning for cancer care during a pandemic had not been considered, and how much cancer management would have to be changed was an unknown.

“While it is clearly designed with the Australian healthcare system and this COVID-19 pandemic in mind, the principles of Cancer care in the time of COVID-19 are transferrable to any jurisdiction, any chronic disease and for any pandemic.”

“Australia is in a privileged global position to guide cancer management thinking during this COVID-19 crisis. We are successfully flattening the COVID-19 curve, and we have among the best cancer survival rates in the world. These factors enable Cancer Australia to lead the way in designing frameworks for cancer care to assist in decision-making to ensure best outcomes for patients,” said Professor Keefe.

Professor of Surgical Oncology, University of WA, Christobel Saunders, said that Australia’s Optimal Care Pathways for people with cancer, developed by Cancer Council, could be applied to support the delivery of consistent, safe, high-quality and evidence-based cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We now know that during a pandemic, cancer care around the world needs to be tailored to different phases of a pandemic, in order to balance the health system capacity against the needs of the patient, to ensure best patient outcomes,” continued Professor Keefe.

“Best practice approaches to cancer care will vary depending on the shape of the pandemic curve in any one jurisdiction and at any particular time, and the relationship between the curve and the health system capacity. Decisions to change patient care to minimise harm and improve cancer outcomes should be evidence-based, risk-based and consensus-based, and always made in consultation with individual patients.”

Using published data, guidelines and recommendations, this conceptual framework is intended as a useful resource for cancer organisations, health professionals, medical colleges, and policy-makers.

Cancer care in the time of COVID-19 is published on the Cancer Australia website.