The UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring Project (UKCCMP) started as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was up and running in record time, bringing the cancer community together to understand the impact of coronavirus on cancer patients.

Dr Karin Purshouse, a medical oncology trainee and the Clinical Outreach and Scotland Lead for the project, tells us why the project came to life and what it is trying to achieve.

 

The need to understand COVID-19 in cancer patients

In March, the UK cancer community was getting concerned about the impact coronavirus may have on patients with cancer. The early evidence was emerging from China and Italy, the first countries significantly affected by COVID-19, that cancer patients might be at increased risk of severe outcomes from the infection. But not much was known about the virus and how it affects different groups of people.

“We didn’t know the influence of different factors that may increase the risk of severe infection, the extent of the risk for different cancer patients, and how we are going to respond in the weeks and months ahead,” explains Karin.

To fill the gap in our knowledge, Professor Gary Middleton and Dr Lennard Lee from University Hospital Birmingham and Professor Rachel Kerr from Oxford University Hospitals gathered a group of clinicians, statisticians and scientists to launch a UK-wide project following the treatment and outcomes of cancer patients with COVID-19. In ten days, the project was up and running.

“It’s a real achievement,” says Karin, “in such a short time to correctly go through all the governance procedures, regulatory procedures and bring an expert team together.”

Now, there are 60 cancer centres across the UK reporting anonymised data such as age, gender, cancer type and treatment from cancer patients who tested positive for COVID-19. The project has also expanded to have a paediatric oncology arm, and a haematology arm.

 

Filling the gaps in our knowledge in real time

The project enables the UK cancer community to share knowledge and learn quickly. With weekly updates sent to participating cancer centres and a dedicated team at the University of Birmingham analysing trends, the project helps clinicians care for cancer patients during this pandemic.

“As a result of the pandemic, cancer communities had to make some extremely challenging decisions with their patients based on very little specific evidence in the context of a health service that had to prioritise projected acute and intensive care needs,” says Karin.

“It was important to generate a large and rapidly accessible database from which cancer teams could draw experience when making decisions with cancer patients about their care.”

It’s becoming apparent that we will have coronavirus around for some time, so the cancer community needs to find a way to move forward.

The hope is, that this project will give cancer teams information about best practice, help to identify patient groups that could be at greater or lesser risk and allow treatment teams to make better decisions.

And with the potential to highlight areas that need to be researched further, it can benefit cancer patients not only today, but also in the future.

“I hope this project encourages patients to know that the UK cancer community is a real team with patient interest at its heart,” says Karin.

 

Already making a difference

Karin highlights that running for just over a month, the project is already making a difference.

“We’re already seeing it in the dialogs that it’s prompting, especially about groups of cancer patients for whom the risk of serious COVID-19 infection may be different from what we initially thought. For example, recently released data suggests that patients who have recently had chemotherapy may not have worse outcomes than those who have not.”

To make this project a success, Karin also urges UK clinicians to get involved:

“If you’re a clinician then check out where your local reporting centre is. If you find that your centre isn’t active, you can apply to become a reporting centre by registering an expression of interest. And find out who you need to report cases to and make sure that cases are updated, if your centre is already contributing.”

Anyone who wants to access the data can sign up to receive weekly emails or follow the project on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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