Systematic Screening of COVID-19 Disease Based on Chest CT and RT-PCR for Cancer Patients Undergoing Radiation Therapy in a Coronavirus French Hotspot

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2021 Feb 17;S0360-3016(21)00197-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2021.02.022. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Patients with cancer are presumed to be more vulnerable to COVID-19. We evaluated a screening strategy combining chest computed tomography (CT) and reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for patients treated with radiation therapy at our cancer center located in a COVID-19 French hotspot during the first wave of the pandemic.

Methods and materials: Chest CT images were proposed during radiation therapy CT simulation. Images were reviewed by an expert radiologist according to the COVID-19 Reporting and Data System classification. Nasal swabs with RT-PCR assay were initially proposed in cases of suspicious imaging or clinical context and were eventually integrated into the systematic screening. A dedicated radiation therapy workflow was proposed for COVID-19 patients to limit the risk of contamination.

Results: From March 18, 2020 to May 1, 2020, 480 patients were screened by chest CT, and 313 patients had both chest CT and RT-PCR (65%). The cumulative incidence of COVID-19 was 5.4% (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.6-7.8; 26 of 480 patients). Diagnosis of COVID-19 was made before radiation therapy for 22 patients (84.6%) and during RT for 4 patients (15.3%). Chest CT directly aided the diagnosis of 7 cases in which the initial RT-PCR was negative or not feasible, out of a total of 480 patients (1.5%) and 517 chest CT acquisitions. Four patients with COVID-19 at the time of the chest CT screening had a false negative CT. Sensitivity and specificity of chest CT screening in patients with both RT-PCR and chest CT testing were estimated at 0.82 (95% CI, 0.60-0.95) and 0.98 (95% CI, 0.96-0.99), respectively. Adaptation of the radiation therapy treatment was made for all patients, with 7 postponed treatments (median: 5 days; interquartile range, 1.5-14.8).

Conclusions: The benefit of systematic use of chest CT screening during CT simulation for patients undergoing radiation therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic seemed limited.