News | Coronavirus (COVID-19) | July 31, 2020

Outcomes in Radiotherapy-treated Patients with Cancer During COVID-19

JAMA Oncol. Published online  July 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2783

Table 1. JAMA Oncol. Published online  July 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2783

July 31, 2020 — An article published in JAMA Oncology addresses the delivery of radiotherapy in 209 patients with cancer during the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. It states that several health care services have been affected by the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. A delay in diagnosis and treatment can be detrimental to patients with cancer.1,2 However, patients with cancer are also at risk for COVID-19 because of immunosuppressive treatments and recurrent visits to the hospital.3 In this article, we report preliminary outcomes in 209 patients who underwent radiotherapy at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University (ZHWU) during the COVID-19 outbreak in the city of Wuhan, China.


All patients who were treated at the Department of Medical and Radiation Oncology, ZHWU, from January 20 to March 5, 2020, were included. Public health measures implemented during the study period included city lockdown (January 23, 2020), cordon sanitaire, traffic restriction, social distancing, and home confinement. We analyzed patient demographics as well as clinical and treatment parameters. Survival status of all patients was updated as of March 12, 2020.

This study was approved by the ZHWU institutional review board (No. 2020041) with waiver of informed consent for the use of aggregated, anonymized patient data.


The Table summarizes the clinical characteristics of 209 patients and their treatment details. Median (interquartile range) age of the patients was 55 (48-64) years; 104 patients (49.8%) were men, and 105 (50.2%) were women. Most patients had thoracic cancer (n = 80 [38.3%], including lung, breast, and esophageal cancers), head and neck cancer (n = 53 [25.4%]), or gastrointestinal or gynecological cancer (n = 54 [25.8%]). Of the patients, 99 (47.4%) received adjuvant radiotherapy, whereas 57 (27.3%) and 53 (25.3%) underwent radical and palliative radiotherapy, respectively; 67 patients (32.1%) received concurrent chemoradiotherapy. All patients had already begun treatment prior to the study start date.

Unfortunately, 112 patients (53.6%) were unable to return for radiotherapy after the lockdown. Among the 67 patients receiving chemoradiotherapy, 3 (4.5%) had completed treatment and 62 (92.5%) discontinued treatment (58 could not return, and 4 discontinued by the physician’s choice); only 2 patients (3.0%) resumed chemoradiotherapy. Before the lockdown, the mean (range) number of patients per day was 188 (160-209). However, these numbers dropped sharply after the date of lockdown and declined with each subsequent week (mean [range] number of patients per day, 12 [2-66]) (Figure).

We recorded only 1 case (0.5%) of confirmed severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection during the study period. Although 70 patients (33.5%) had a history of contact with this patient, none of them developed clinical symptoms of COVID-19. Of these 70 patients, 52 (74.2%) were unable to resume radiotherapy after the lockdown, while 18 (25.8%) continued radiotherapy without delay. All patients were alive as of March 12, 2020.


To date, more than 10 000 000 humans have been diagnosed as having COVID-19. This disease is highly infectious, since both asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals can transmit the virus.4,5 Extensive public health measures that are focused on physical distancing and tight containment have been implemented. In the city of Wuhan, China, such measures were effective in limiting virus transmission and reducing daily new COVID-19 cases across all age groups.6 However, there are concerns that these public health measures will affect the delivery of other health care services.

In this article, we share our experience with the COVID-19 lockdown and the delivery of radiotherapy in patients with cancer at ZHWU in Wuhan, China. Caseloads were substantially reduced (a 10-fold drop after lockdown). More than half of the patients in this case series were unable to return to the city for treatment, which is a consequence of the massive human migration (Chunyun) for the Spring Festival that preceded the lockdown. Additionally, physicians were conservative in resuming chemoradiotherapy. Long-term follow-up data may reveal detrimental ramifications of treatment interruption on the survival of these patients with cancer.

Originally published online, July 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2783



1. Kwong  DL, Sham  JS, Chua  DT, Choy  DT, Au  GK, Wu  PM.  The effect of interruptions and prolonged treatment time in radiotherapy for nasopharyngeal carcinoma.   Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1997;39(3):703-710. doi:10.1016/S0360-3016(97)00339-8PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

2. Bleicher  RJ.  Timing and delays in breast cancer evaluation and treatment.   Ann Surg Oncol. 2018;25(10):2829-2838. doi:10.1245/s10434-018-6615-2PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

3. Yu  J, Ouyang  W, Chua  MLK, Xie  C.  SARS-CoV-2 transmission in patients with cancer at a tertiary care hospital in Wuhan, China.   JAMA Oncol. Published online March 25, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.0980
ArticlePubMedGoogle Scholar

4. Li  Q, Guan  X, Wu  P,  et al.  Early transmission dynamics in Wuhan, China, of novel coronavirus–infected pneumonia.   N Engl J Med. 2020;382(13):1199-1207. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2001316PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

5. Song  J-Y, Yun  J-G, Noh  J-Y, Cheong  H-J, Kim  W-J.  Covid-19 in South Korea: challenges of subclinical manifestations.   N Engl J Med. 2020;382(19):1858-1859. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2001801PubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

6. Pan  A, Liu  L, Wang  C,  et al.  Association of public health interventions with the epidemiology of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China.   JAMA. 2020;323(19):1-9. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.6130
ArticlePubMedGoogle ScholarCrossref

Related Content

News | Radiation Therapy | May 06, 2021
May 6, 2021 — Individuals living with severe...
Research finds that a commonly used risk-prediction model for lung cancer does not accurately identify high-risk Black patients who could benefit from early screening

Getty Images

News | Lung Imaging | May 05, 2021
May 5, 2021 — Lung cancer is the third most common cance
Building the right infrastructure today will ensure the needed tools are there tomorrow, whatever the challenge may be

Getty Images

Feature | Radiology Business | May 05, 2021 | By Tom Cheesewrite in collaboration with Ludger Philippsen
The COVID-19 pandemic came as a shock, but not a
With the growing adoption of #data #analytics in #healthcare, we are seeing more clearly that there are two sides of data
Feature | Artificial Intelligence | May 05, 2021 | By Sundararajan Mani
With the growing adoption of...
The emergence of #therapeutic #radiopharmaceuticals and its adoption in #cancer care provide one more weapon in combating cancer

Getty Images

Feature | Radiation Oncology | May 04, 2021 | By Vinay Shivaprasad
The term nuclear medicine is associated with the diag
A 37-year-old woman developed a new, palpable left supraclavicular lymphadenopathy lump five days after her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the left arm. On the day of vaccination, the patient was asymptomatic. This is an example of how the vaccine can mimic cancer and swollen lymph nodes. Image used with permission of RSNA.

A 37-year-old woman developed a new, palpable left supraclavicular lymphadenopathy lump five days after her first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the left arm. On the day of vaccination, the patient was asymptomatic. This is an example of how the vaccine can mimic cancer and swollen lymph nodes. Read more about this case study. Image used with permission of RSNA.

Feature | Coronavirus (COVID-19) | May 03, 2021 | By Dave Fornell, Editor
While the mass COVID-19 vaccinat