Managing haematology and oncology patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: interim consensus guidance

Med J Aust. 2020 Jun;212(10):481-489. doi: 10.5694/mja2.50607. Epub 2020 May 13.


Introduction: A pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, causes COVID-19, a potentially life-threatening respiratory disease. Patients with cancer may have compromised immunity due to their malignancy and/or treatment, and may be at elevated risk of severe COVID-19. Community transmission of COVID-19 could overwhelm health care services, compromising delivery of cancer care. This interim consensus guidance provides advice for clinicians managing patients with cancer during the pandemic.

Main recommendations: During the COVID-19 pandemic: In patients with cancer with fever and/or respiratory symptoms, consider causes in addition to COVID-19, including other infections and therapy-related pneumonitis. For suspected or confirmed COVID-19, discuss temporary cessation of cancer therapy with a relevant specialist. Provide information on COVID-19 for patients and carers. Adopt measures within cancer centres to reduce risk of nosocomial SARS-CoV-2 acquisition; support population-wide social distancing; reduce demand on acute services; ensure adequate staffing; and provide culturally safe care. Measures should be equitable, transparent and proportionate to the COVID-19 threat. Consider the risks and benefits of modifying cancer therapies due to COVID-19. Communicate treatment modifications, and review once health service capacity allows. Consider potential impacts of COVID-19 on the blood supply and availability of stem cell donors. Discuss and document goals of care, and involve palliative care services in contingency planning.

Changes in management as a result of this statement: This interim consensus guidance provides a framework for clinicians managing patients with cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. In view of the rapidly changing situation, clinicians must also monitor national, state, local and institutional policies, which will take precedence.

Endorsed by: Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group; Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group; Australian and New Zealand Children's Haematology/Oncology Group; Australia and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine; Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases; Bone Marrow Transplantation Society of Australia and New Zealand; Cancer Council Australia; Cancer Nurses Society of Australia; Cancer Society of New Zealand; Clinical Oncology Society of Australia; Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand; National Centre for Infections in Cancer; New Zealand Cancer Control Agency; New Zealand Society for Oncology; and Palliative Care Australia.

Keywords: COVID-19; Hematologic neoplasms; Immunosuppression; Virus diseases.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Consensus
  • Coronavirus Infections / complications*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Hematologic Diseases / virology
  • Hematology / standards*
  • Humans
  • Medical Oncology / standards*
  • Neoplasms / virology
  • New Zealand
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / complications*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • SARS-CoV-2