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Main Line Health researchers find that changes in treatment increased anxiety for breast cancer patients amid pandemic, and Main Line Health physicians respond to this patient need

Main Line Health September 21, 2021 Research News

The COVID-19 pandemic forced medical centers nationwide to delay or change course on treatment for many breast cancer patients. A new study by Main Line Health researchers has taken an in-depth look at the issue, finding the pandemic caused wide-ranging effects.

About 44% of patients saw changes to their breast cancer treatment plan due to the pandemic, according to the study led by the Center for Population Health Research at the Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR), part of Main Line Health. Regardless of whether their plan was altered, nearly 1 in 3 experienced elevated levels of anxiety and depression.

The study involved patients who needed medical evaluation or had a scheduled surgery date at Lankenau Medical Center or Bryn Mawr Hospital, two acute-care hospitals under Main Line Health, a community-based health system providing multidisciplinary breast cancer care throughout the Philadelphia region.

“This data is relevant to cancer care across the U.S. especially as we are now seeing an increase in COVID cases,” said lead author Kaitlyn Kennard, a postdoctoral fellow for LIMR and Lankenau Medical Center surgical resident. “More than 75% of surgical care for breast cancer nationally is delivered in community hospitals. That means Main Line Health’s experience with the impact of COVID-19 reflects the majority of breast cancer care.”

Data was collected during the initial COVID-19 surge from March to June 2020. Surgery at the time was limited to essential cases. Established patients were seen via telemedicine. The study found 32 of the 73 enrolled patients (44%) had changes to their care. Changes included delay in therapy (15%) and use of hormonal therapy (29%) to compensate for delays in surgery. The median time to surgery for patients whose cases could not wait was 24 days.

Additionally, a survey showed nearly one-third of patients reported higher anxiety and depression. Those levels were similar regardless of whether the patient had a change in care or not. However, more than 55% of those with changes in care said they believed COVID-19 affected their treatment outlook.

“This study reinforces that we should have plans in place to meet the needs of patients with all types of cancer in the case of an emergent situation,” said Sharon Larson, executive director of the Center for Population Health Research and a study coauthor.

“Since the initial COVID-19 surge, we have been diligently working to address the pandemic’s impact on Main Line Health cancer patients,” said Michael Walker, MD, medical director, Main Line Health Cancer Care. “We have developed programs and services to help our patients through this challenging time.”

Walker cited creating online support groups and webinars, ensuring easy access to telemedicine, and providing early access to vaccines as examples of how the health system strived to serve patients and ease their anxiety.

“Main Line Health breast cancer nurse navigators have always been by a patient’s side throughout testing, diagnosis and treatment, and they came up with innovative ways to continue this support, which was needed more than ever,” Walker said.

The study, “COVID-19 Pandemic: Changes in Care for a Community Academic Breast Center and Patient Perception of Those Changes,” is in the September issue of Annals of Surgical Oncology.

About Lankenau Institute for Medical Research

Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR) is a nonprofit biomedical research institute located on the campus of Lankenau Medical Center and is part of Main Line Health. Founded in 1927, LIMR’s mission is to improve human health and well-being. Faculty and staff are devoted to advancing innovative new approaches to formidable medical challenges, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal disorders and autoimmune diseases, such as diabetes and arthritis. LIMR’s principal investigators conduct basic, preclinical and translational research, using their findings to explore ways to improve disease detection, diagnosis, treatment and prevention. They are committed to extending the boundaries of human health through technology transfer and training of the next generation of scientists and physicians.

About Main Line Health

Founded in 1985,Main Line Health is a not-for-profit health system serving portions of Philadelphia and its western suburbs. Main Line Health’s commitment—to deliver advanced medicine to treat and cure disease while also playing an important role in prevention and disease management as well as training physicians and other health care providers—reflects our intent to keep our community and ourselves well ahead. A team of more than 10,000 employees and 2,000 physicians care for patients throughout the Main Line Health system.

At Main Line Health’s core are four of the region’s most respected acute care hospitals—Lankenau Medical Center, Bryn Mawr Hospital, Paoli Hospital and Riddle Hospital—as well as one of the nation’s recognized facilities for rehabilitative medicine, Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital.

Main Line Health also includes Mirmont Treatment Center for drug and alcohol recovery; Main Line Health HomeCare & Hospice, which includes skilled home health care, hospice and home infusion services; Main Line Health Centers, primary and specialty care, lab and radiology, and other outpatient services located in Broomall, Collegeville, Concordville, Exton, King of Prussia and Newtown Square; Lankenau Institute for Medical Research, a biomedical research organization; and Main Line HealthCare,one of the region’s largest multispecialty physician networks.

Main Line Health is the recipient of numerous awards for quality care and service, including System Magnet® designation, the nation’s highest distinction for nursing excellence and the Mid-Atlantic Alliance for Performance Excellence (MAAPE) Excellence Award. Main Line Health is committed to creating an environment of diversity, respect and inclusion and has proudly embraced the American Hospital Association’s #123forEquity Pledge to Act to eliminate disparities in care. We are dedicated to advancing patient-centered care, education and research to help our community stay healthy.

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Samantha Krouse
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