Cancer patient care is continually evolving, but COVID-19 changed the way patients received care in 2020 and it even caused many people to not get diagnoses and some treatments. However, the future for cancer patient care in 2021 and beyond remains positive.
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Cancer Care in the Wake of COVID-19 Vaccines
COVID-19 has unfortunately disproportionately affected patients with cancer over the last year. Patients have seen significant declines in screenings, biopsies, surgeries, and doctor visits, which has resulted in diagnosis and therapy delays. As the vaccination rollout continues and COVID-19 becomes more controlled, cancer patients can expect to see a pathway back to getting diagnoses and treatments more quickly. 2021 should also provide more information about the effects of a COVID-19 vaccination on people with cancer. An important question currently being looked at is whether cancer therapies like chemotherapy will alter the efficacy of the vaccination. After all, while the benefits and risks of chemotherapy are well known, there is currently limited evidence for knowing how the vaccinations will affect cancer treatments. As we move further into 2021, the outlook should become clearer.
New Therapy Combinations
Drug therapies for treating various types of cancer have come a long way in recent years. New treatments include immunotherapies, cancer vaccines, bispecific monoclonal antibodies, oncolytic viruses, next-generation biotherapeutics, and targeted therapies; all of which have contributed to cancer patients’ overall survival rates. Furthermore, to create even greater efficacy, researchers are using combinations of therapies that are designed to boost low-response rates and identify elements that could contribute to low-response rates.
There is no one treatment for cancer, and the cancer patient care sector is moving more and more towards providing cancer patients with a personalized care approach. Molecular pathology has helped to bring about that approach as it is now fundamental for diagnosis, prognosis, and therapeutic decisions. Identifying biomarkers to predict the best therapies and regimens for individual patients is quickly becoming the norm. In 2021, leveraging next-generation sequencing technologies for biomarker tests will result in increased numbers of cancer patients responding to personalized regimens based on the individual’s genetics and pathology.
The Technologies Transforming Cancer Patient Care
Technology is changing the outlook for cancer care in 2021 and beyond. In particular, the health care industry is working with internal or external analytics experts to combine data, analytics, machine learning, and even artificial intelligence, to optimize and transform cancer care via identifying patterns of medical utilization, identifying target populations for treatments, and proactively forecasting anticipated lines of therapy transition. Armed with these technologies, health care professionals can also identify unwarranted variations in cancer care and save costs. For example, the data analytics organization COTA has partnered with Hackensack Meridian Health to track the various methods and regimens used for treating breast cancer. Based on the analysis, it was discovered that the treatment works best overall on certain patients. The researchers were also able to identify unwarranted variations in care, which saved 20% on the total spend.
The Rise of Virtual Care
Even before COVID-19, the healthcare industry was heading towards a telehealth system, and now virtual technology is being much more widely adopted across the health care system. That basically means many cancer care services are moving online. Things like telehealth, virtual health, digital therapeutics, meeting platforms, and educational resources are here to stay in some shape or form. For instance, the company Texas Oncology now permanently uses telemedicine for providing patient care, which involves providing consultations, doing toxicity checks, providing genetic counseling, and educating patients. While some cancer care patient services like body scans still need to be completed in person, there are a growing number of areas in cancer care that are gradually moving to the virtual world.