What Prostate Cancer UK is doing to support men with their prostate cancer treatment during the COVID-19 outbreak
The NHS is facing unprecedented pressure on its services and capability. With the peak anticipated to be a few weeks away, the full impact on NHS capacity is still to come.
There is also uncertainty around exactly who will need intensive care after contracting COVID-19, but we know that people who are older or have certain underlying health conditions are more likely to be vulnerable to the disease.
Guidance is being published that attempts to support clinicians and hospitals to balance the risk of delaying cancer treatment against the risk of contracting COVID-19 for individual patients. We have been contributing to this, including guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the One Cancer Voice charity guidance for patients.
For many prostate cancer patients, especially those with low-to-intermediate risk localised disease, treatment can be safely delayed. We are also aware that some patients have been choosing to delay treatment in order to reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19 by limiting their risk of coming into contact with the virus during hospital visits.
For prostate cancer treatments that can’t be safely delayed, we have been working with the NHS, NICE and clinicians to explore alternative treatments that can avoid compromising patients’ immune systems, or can reduce hospital visits and face-to-face contact so that men are put at less risk of contracting COVID-19.
This includes patients receiving hormone therapy so that their prostate cancer is stabilised while potentially waiting a few months for further treatment.
In all cases, there will need to be a discussion between clinicians and patients to consider the balance of risk between delaying treatment and contracting COVID-19.
Chemotherapy treatment for advanced prostate cancer will be affected by the pandemic. Patients receiving chemotherapy experience immunosuppression and so will be at greater risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19. Chemotherapy administration also involves multiple visits to a hospital setting which increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.
While NICE guidance suggests that chemotherapy can continue, it is unlikely that any new patients will start receiving chemotherapy. Men with prostate cancer can receive hormone therapy and delay the beginning of their chemotherapy treatment.
We are also exploring with the NHS and clinicians whether alternative treatments to chemotherapy with equal survival benefit can be made more widely available.
For men already receiving chemotherapy, guidance has been issued on how this can continue and how the risk of infection with COVID-19 can be minimised. Rules around treatment breaks (or the maximum time between administering doses of a treatment) have been relaxed to allow patients to stay away from hospital settings for longer.
Surgery and radiotherapy
We are aware that changes to treatment plans are being put in place for some men in areas where COVID-19 is having a bigger impact. We want to make sure that these decisions are being taken based on the risk and benefit of treatment for individuals, and that men are involved in these decisions.
In particular we are investigating with the NHS and professional bodies to find a solution to ensure that patients with high-risk cancer and most in need of treatment are able to receive it as safely as possible.
We want the best possible outcomes for the 400,000 men across the UK living with prostate cancer. We stand with and for men and their families at this particularly challenging time. Anyone with concerns or questions about how COVID-19 may impact on treatments due to be received should speak to their clinician.
You may also find it helpful to read our information on COVID-19 and prostate cancer, which answers some of the common questions that men and their loved ones are asking at this time. If this doesn’t answer your questions, please call our Specialist Nurses on 0800 074 8383.