Markey Joins National Cancer Consortium to Address the Impact of COVID-19 on Cancer Prevention and Treatment

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 22, 2020) – The University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center has joined a consortium of 17 cancer centers around the country to better understand the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to disrupted cancer prevention, detection and care.

Coordinated by the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the cancer centers are working together with funding from the National Cancer Institute to study the impact of the pandemic on the continuum of cancer care from prevention to survivorship. This work will further examine whether differences in demographics impact cancer prevention and control, cancer management, and survivorship during the pandemic.

The UK Markey Cancer Center joined this massive collaboration as a direct response to sobering forecasts from the NCI about cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials have warned that the pandemic may have prevented some patients from undergoing much needed screenings and hindered access to procedures that could result in an uptick in late-stage presentations and cancer death. Furthermore, these delayed cancer screenings, clinical trials and treatments during the pandemic could roll back significant gains made in recent years in reducing cancer deaths.  

“Early detection through screening is critical to finding cancer early when treatment has the best chance for success,” said Mark Dignan, Ph.D., professor in the UK College of Medicine. “But when something like the COVID-19 pandemic occurs and causes people to put cancer screening on a backburner, it has the potential to significantly increase bad cancer outcomes. We really are concerned about that.”

Collectively, the cancer centers will conduct surveys among healthy volunteers and cancer survivors nationwide about their health and well-being during the pandemic, with a focus on work and employment, housing/home life, social activities, emotional well-being, physical health, and behavior related to COVID-19 prevention, as well as behaviors such as physical activity and tobacco use that have links to cancer. By complying with current pandemic restrictions, individuals will be contacted by phone, text and social media. 

The goal is to develop and implement cancer prevention and control strategies to combat the ill effects of the pandemic and to help patients – particularly those who live in medically underserved areas – with unmet health needs.

“By joining this consortium, we can leverage the expertise and connections of our community partners and other investigators at UK to determine exactly how this pandemic is hurting Kentucky, and equally important, how we can help,” said Jessica Burris, Ph.D., director of the Markey Behavioral and Community-Based Research Shared Resource Facility and assistant professor in the UK College of Arts & Sciences. “Just as UK is the University for Kentucky, Markey is the cancer center for Kentucky, and our responsibility is to serve all of the Commonwealth.”

In addition to Markey, other cancer centers participating in the consortium are:

  • Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center (Missouri)
  • The Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute (Michigan)
  • Fred Hutchinson/University of Washington Cancer Consortium
  • Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center (Iowa)
  • Huntsman Cancer Institute (Utah)
  • Knight Cancer Institute (Oregon)
  • The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center
  • O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center (Alabama)
  • Stephenson Cancer Center (Oklahoma)
  • Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center (Florida)
  • UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center (California)
  • University of Colorado Cancer Center
  • The University of Kansas Cancer Center
  • University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • University of Virginia Cancer Center
  • Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (Tennessee)

Despite progress made in recent years, Kentucky continues to rank first in the nation for deaths from cancer; in fact, this year alone, the American Cancer Society estimates that 10,500 Kentuckians will die from cancer. Unfortunately, many of these cancers could have been successfully treated if they were found at an earlier stage through a timely cancer screening appointment.

“Cancer doesn’t care about COVID, and cancer isn’t going to wait for the pandemic to pass,” said Pamela Hull, Ph.D., associate director of population science and community impact at Markey and associate professor in the UK College of Medicine. “The UK Markey Cancer Center and all the healthcare facilities in Kentucky that do screenings are taking extreme precautions to keep patients safe when they come in for screening and any other health needs. The pandemic is going to be here for a while, and we have to make sure we’re taking care of all aspects of our health in the meantime.”