The novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led to radiotherapy interruptions for more than half of patients with cancer at a single institution in Wuhan, China, reported a study in JAMA Oncology.

A total of 209 patients with cancer were receiving treatment at the Department of Medical and Radiation Oncology, Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China, between January 20, 2020, and March 5, 2020. A city lockdown was implemented on January 23, 2020, among other public health measures during that time frame.

The most common cancer types among patients were thoracic cancer (38.3%), head and neck cancer (25.4%), and gastrointestinal or gynecological cancer (25.8%). Most patients were receiving radiotherapy alone (67.9%) and the remaining concurrent chemotherapy and radiotherapy (32.1%). One patient became infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

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Before the lockdown, an average of 188 patients per day (range, 160-209) received radiotherapy at the institution. This number fell to an average of 12 patients per day (range, 2-66 patients per day) after the lockdown.

Overall, 53.6% of patients could not receive radiotherapy after the lockdown. Nearly all patients who were receiving chemoradiotherapy — 92.5% — discontinued treatment, the primary reason being they could not return to the center due to the lockdown.

Patients’ inability to receive treatment, the study authors explained, was  “a consequence of the massive human migration (Chunyun) for the Spring Festival” that occurred before the lockdown. “Additionally, physicians were conservative in resuming chemoradiotherapy.”

These preliminary data show that as of March 12, 2020, no patients have died. However, the study authors speculated, “Long-term follow-up data may reveal detrimental ramifications of treatment interruption on the survival of these patients with cancer.”


Xie C, Wang X, Liu H, et al. Outcomes in radiotherapy-treated patients with cancer during the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China. JAMA Oncol. Published online July 30, 2020. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2020.2783