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There were no significant differences in COVID-19 outcomes between cases caught by routine screening and screening based on symptoms/exposure history among cancer outpatients treated at Mayo Clinic facilities, according to a review of 224 cases.
The finding led to a shift away from routine COVID-19 screening to screening based on symptoms and exposures, said lead investigator Zhuoer Xie, MD, a hematology/oncology fellow at Mayo’s Rochester, Minn., campus.
“We are so happy” to see these results and be able to move away from routine screening. It’s burdensome and uncomfortable for patients and expensive to administer, Xie said at the AACR Virtual Meeting: COVID-19 and Cancer (Abstract S06-03).
Also, “our results provide reassurance that cancer care may safely continue during the pandemic with appropriate precautions,” she said.
Like many institutions, Mayo instituted routine COVID-19 screening for cancer outpatients at the start of the pandemic, requiring patients be tested 24 hours before systemic treatment, radiation therapy, or surgery. People on multiday regimens were screened twice a week.
Among 5,452 patients at the Rochester campus and its surrounding satellites, plus Mayo’s facilities in Phoenix and Jacksonville, Fla., routine screening picked up 63 COVID-19 cases (1.2%) from March 18 to July 31, 2020.
The outcomes were compared with 161 COVID-19 cases screened due to symptoms and exposure history. Most of the patients were on cancer surveillance as opposed to active treatment with routine testing.
Overall, 17.5% of cases caught by routine screening (11/63) were hospitalized versus 26.7% of patients screened for risk factors (43/161).
There was one COVID-19-related ICU admission among the 63 routine screening cases (1.6%) and nine ICU admissions (5.6%) among the risk-factor screening group. Three people diagnosed by routine screening (4.8%) died, compared with six deaths in the risk factor screening group (3.7%). The differences were not statistically significant, and there was no difference in treatment delay based on screening method.
The mortality rate was substantially lower than previously reported for COVID-19 among cancer patients, perhaps in part because Mayo facilities were not overwhelmed with cases early in the pandemic, so there was never a shortage of hospital beds and other resources, Xie said.
“Many of us are glad to see your data. It’s comforting,” said presentation moderator Solange Peters, MD, PhD, head of medical oncology at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Lausanne, Switzerland.
With proper precautions, “we can firmly encourage patients to come” in for their “cancer treatment without any hesitation,” Peters said.
“We feel the same way. We tell our patients this might be the safest place for you to be. Everybody is masked; everybody is taking all the precautions,” said Sheena Bhalla, MD, a hematology/oncology fellow as the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.
“We are [also] reaching out to patients who have been hesitant” about the COVID-19 vaccine, Bhalla said, “and trying to get them vaccinated. We are still learning how cancer patients will do with the vaccine, but we think that some protection is better than no protection.”
Currently at Mayo’s main campus in Rochester and its surrounding clinics, COVID-19 screening is based on symptoms, exposure, and factors such as high risk for neutropenic fever.
Mayo’s Arizona and Florida campuses had a surge of cases a few months ago, so routine screening is still used there but only on a monthly basis for people on active treatment.
Consistent with previous reports, older age and lymphopenia increased the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization in Mayo’s study, but comorbidities and active cancer treatment did not.
COVID-19 patients were a median of 62 years old, and 42% were women. Breast, genitourinary, and gastrointestinal tumors were the most common cancers.
Respiratory failure and sepsis were the most common complications among the 54 hospital admissions; eight patients required intubation.
The funding source wasn’t reported. The speakers had no relevant disclosures.