Guidelines on delaying cancer surgery during COVID-19


Colorectal Cancer Surgery

Guidance for colorectal cancer surgery is also split into the three phases of the pandemic.

Phase I would include cases needing surgical intervention as soon as feasible, while recognizing that the status of each hospital is likely to evolve over the next week or two. These patients would include those with nearly obstructing colon cancer or rectal cancer; cancers that require frequent transfusions; asymptomatic colon cancers; rectal cancers that do not respond to neoadjuvant chemoradiation; malignancies with a risk of local perforation and sepsis; and those with early stage rectal cancers that are not candidates for adjuvant therapy.

Phase II comprises patients needing surgery as soon as feasible, but recognizing that hospital status is likely to progress over the next few days. These cases include patients with a nearly obstructing colon cancer where stenting is not an option; those with nearly obstructing rectal cancer (should be diverted); cancers with high (inpatient) transfusion requirements; and cancers with pending evidence of local perforation and sepsis.

All colorectal procedures typically scheduled as routine should be delayed.

In Phase III, if the status of the facility is likely to progress within hours, the only surgery that should be performed would be for perforated, obstructed, or actively bleeding (inpatient transfusion dependent) cancers or those with sepsis. All other surgeries should be deferred.

Thoracic Cancer Surgery

Thoracic cancer surgery guidelines follow those for breast cancer. Phase I should be restricted to patients whose survival may be impacted if surgery is not performed within next 3 months. These include:

  • Cases with solid or predominantly solid (>50%) lung cancer or presumed lung cancer (>2 cm), clinical node negative
  • Node positive lung cancer
  • Post-induction therapy cancer
  • Esophageal cancer T1b or greater
  • Chest wall tumors that are potentially aggressive and not manageable by alternative means
  • Stenting for obstructing esophageal tumor
  • Staging to start treatment (mediastinoscopy, diagnostic VATS for pleural dissemination)
  • Symptomatic mediastinal tumors
  • Patients who are enrolled in therapeutic clinical trials.

Phase II would permit surgery if survival will be impacted by a delay of a few days. These cases would include nonseptic perforated cancer of esophagus, a tumor-associated infection, and management of surgical complications in a hemodynamically stable patient.

All thoracic procedures considered to be routine/elective would be deferred.

Phase III restricts surgery to patients whose survival will be compromised if they do not undergo surgery within the next few hours. This group would include perforated cancer of esophagus in a septic patient, a patient with a threatened airway, sepsis associated with the cancer, and management of surgical complications in an unstable patient (active bleeding that requires surgery, dehiscence of airway, anastomotic leak with sepsis).

All other cases would be deferred.

Other Cancer Types

Although the ACS doesn’t have specific guidelines for all cancer types, a few are included in their general recommendations for the specialty.

For gynecologic surgeries, ACS lists cancer or suspected cancer as indications where significantly delayed surgery could cause “significant harm.”

Delays, in general, are not recommended for neurosurgery, which would include brain cancers. In pediatrics, most cancer surgery is considered “urgent,” where a delay of days to weeks could prove detrimental to the patient. This would comprise all solid tumors, including the initial biopsy and resection following neoadjuvant therapy.

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