The coronavirus pandemic has caused many to put off medical procedures, but a delay in radiation treatment for prostate cancer doesn't appear to affect survival, a new study shows.
Researchers found that men with intermediate- or high-risk localized prostate cancer receiving radiation and hormone therapy who delay radiation while staying on hormone therapy didn't face worse outcomes.
"Using a large database of patients with prostate cancer, we validated that the timing of starting radiation could be flexible," said study co-author Dr. Vinayak Muralidhar, a resident in the department of radiation oncology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
"Our data suggest that patients can wait for COVID-19 cases to go down before starting radiation. Or, if there's a chance a surge is coming, they could consider undergoing radiation a little earlier than planned and complete it before the surge arrives," Muralidhar said in a hospital news release.
Radiation therapy is given to patients with localized prostate cancer along with six to 36 months of hormone therapy.
For the study, the researchers collected data on more than 63,000 cases of localized prostate cancer in the U.S. National Cancer Database.
The cases were divided into four groups based on when radiation was begun relative to hormone therapy. For men with intermediate- and high-risk disease, the study found no difference in overall survival in the four groups.
"The findings are reassuring to patients and allow us to come up with a flexible radiation schedule for prostate cancer that ensures their safety," Muralidhar said. "The results have important implications for patients in areas experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases who can opt to wait for a safer time to come in and initiate treatment. In the future, we can also look at other types of cancers and treatments and see how delaying therapy has an impact on survival."
The report was published online Aug. 13 in the journal JAMA Oncology.
"Our hope is that our study helps patients and providers make decisions about the timing of treatment," said first author Edward Christopher Dee, a fourth-year student at Harvard Medical School. "These decisions may allow patients to decrease their risk of exposure to COVID-19. Our findings may also provide reassurance to patients and providers who choose to delay treatment."