NCCN Gets Personal About Improving Global Cancer Care for World Cancer Day
NCCN joins people and organizations worldwide in commemorating World Cancer Day every February 4. World Cancer Day 2021 was dedicated to the courage and achievements of people living with cancer and their families, as well as caregivers, healthcare providers, researchers, advocates, and other volunteers—and called for everyone to join in helping to save lives from this disease. The 2021 World Cancer Day efforts were led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC)—of which NCCN is a member. The theme “I Am and I Will” encapsulated the extraordinary spirit and strength of the cancer community. For 2021, NCCN employees took part in a 21-day challenge to get personal about cancer care, by sharing a look at how different staff members’ lives have been directly impacted by cancer.
“The NCCN Guidelines aren’t just the recognized standard for clinical direction and policy in cancer care and the most thorough and frequently updated clinical practice guidelines available in any area of medicine—they also represent how we want our own loved ones and ourselves to be treated,” explained Robert W. Carlson, Chief Executive Officer, NCCN. “The NCCN Guidelines and related resources are put together by multidisciplinary panels of leading experts for every type of cancer, supported by our dedicated staff. Our work helping patients to live better lives is more than a job; it’s a calling. This is never more evident than in the many personal stories our staff submitted for inclusion in our World Cancer Day challenge.”
Over the past 12 months, NCCN has also worked to maintain and optimize quality cancer care during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This work includes guidance principals for vaccinating people with cancer; a multiorganization statement on the importance of resuming safe, recommended cancer screening and treatment; best practices for keeping patients and staff safe from infection; and modified treatment information and supportive care.
Dr. Cary Adams, CEO of UICC said: “COVID-19 has impacted cancer control globally and the response by the cancer community has been extraordinary, heroic even. This year, more than ever, it is appropriate that we celebrate their achievements on World Cancer Day. Let us all aim in 2021 to refocus our collective efforts on the long-term challenges that cancer poses to every country in the world. We must prevent more, diagnose earlier and ensure that all people living with cancer have access to the quality treatment they need.”
Learn more about NCCN’s campaign to ‘get personal’ at NCCN.org/WCD. Learn more about NCCN’s efforts around the COVID-19 pandemic at NCCN.org/covid-19. Information about NCCN’s work to improve cancer care around the globe can be found at NCCN.org/global. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #NCCNGlobal.
Leading Cancer Organizations Warn Cancer Doesn’t Stop for COVID-19 and Neither Should You
NCCN and the American Cancer Society (ACS) are teaming up with leading cancer organizations across the country to endorse the resumption of cancer screening and treatment during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The coalition of 76 organizations recently released an open letter reminding the public that cancer still poses a major threat to people’s health, but acting as soon as is safely possible can lead to much better outcomes in the future. The letter examines distressing trends showing a significant drop-off in recommended cancer screening and treatment compared to prior years. This concerning side-effect of the pandemic could lead to a staggering number of preventable cancer deaths over the next ten years and beyond. Oncology experts agree that people should not delay any necessary prevention or care.
“When cancer is caught earlier, it is typically easier to treat because there are more options available,” said Robert W. Carlson, MD, Chief Executive Officer, NCCN. “When the pandemic first hit the United States, a short delay in care was an appropriate choice for many cancer types. However, the balance of risk has shifted significantly. We now have 2 impressive vaccines that are being distributed around the world. We also know much more about how to treat and prevent COVID-19. Cancer centers are taking multiple measures to protect patients and staff from COVID-19 and transmission within cancer centers is quite unusual. Meanwhile, far too many cancers are being left to grow unchecked. Postponing cancer care will add tragedy on top of tragedy.”
“It is of the utmost importance that critical cancer screenings resume as soon as safely possible,” said William G. Cance, MD, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the American Cancer Society. “Over the past decade we have seen overall cancer mortality rates drop dramatically. This decline is in large part due to screening’s ability to catch cancers before they spread—when the chances of good outcomes are most likely. We have come too far in our fight against cancer to allow long breaks in vital screening to slow down our progress in saving lives.”
Hospitals and medical systems across the country have already begun vaccinating healthcare providers among other measures to ensure a safe environment for people receiving cancer screening and treatment. The confirmed use of evidence-based precautions against COVID-19 should provide reassurance against fears of infection during necessary medical care.
The letter points out that researchers around the world have made tremendous strides in controlling cancer in recent years. Leading oncology experts are now asking everyone, in coordination with their healthcare provider, to resume preventive and prescribed care and contact their doctor right away about any new symptoms or concerns.
NCCN Shares New Guidance Principles for Vaccinating People With Cancer Against COVID-19
NCCN put out new information recently to provide guidance for COVID-19 vaccinations in people with cancer. The nonprofit alliance of leading cancer centers created an NCCN COVID-19 Vaccine Committee that includes top hematology and oncology experts with particular expertise in infectious diseases, vaccine development and delivery, medical ethics, and health information technology. These recommendations can help cancer care providers make informed decisions on how to protect their patients from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, based on available evidence plus expert consensus. The committee’s recommendations state that all people currently in active cancer treatment should get the vaccine, with some advice to consider regarding immunosuppression and timing. The full document can be found at NCCN.org/covid-19, along with other vital information about the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care.
“Right now, there is urgent need and limited data,” explained Steve Pergam, MD, MPH, Associate Professor, Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Infection Prevention Director at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, co-leader of the NCCN COVID-19 Vaccine Committee. “Our number one goal is helping to get the vaccine to as many people as we can. That means following existing national and regional directions for prioritizing people who are more likely to face death or severe illness from COVID-19. The evidence we have shows that people receiving active cancer treatment are at greater risk for worse outcomes from COVID-19, particularly if they are older and have additional comorbidities, like immunosuppression.”
“My philosophy is don’t waste a dose and keep it simple,” said committee co-leader Lindsey Baden, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Infectious Disease, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Too many caveats can lead to confusion. Of course, if strong new evidence comes out to support prioritizing certain groups over others, we can always adjust. This is intended to be a living document that is constantly evolving – it will be updated rapidly whenever new data comes out, as well as any potential new vaccines that may get approved in the future.”
“One of our primary goals is reducing morbidity and mortality,” said Sirisha Narayana, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Chair of the UCSF Ethics Committee, UCSF Health. “We also have to take social determinants of health into account and make special efforts for people in high-risk communities.”
This new guidance statement from NCCN builds off of existing understanding and guidelines for the flu vaccine during active cancer treatment—such as those in the NCCN Guidelines for Prevention and Treatment of Cancer-Related Infections.
The guidance acknowledges that although these vaccines have been shown to be safe in general populations, their effectiveness among cancer and transplant patients is not precisely known at present. Available data from vaccine trials have demonstrated that vaccines decrease the incidence of COVID-19 disease and complications, but it is unclear if these vaccines prevent infection and subsequent transmission. Therefore, everyone should continue to wear masks, avoid large gatherings, and follow other recommendations for preventing COVID-19 acquisition and transmission, even after vaccination. The committee feels strongly that caregivers and other members of the same household should also be encouraged to get the vaccine as soon they are considered eligible where they live.
The committee also addressed issues such as:
How to prioritize patients in the event of limited supplies and staff capacity;
How to recommend appropriate scheduling based around immunosuppressive therapy;
How to prepare for possible medication interactions or adverse events;
How to account for societal inequities and prioritize at-risk communities;
How to communicate with patients and caregivers, particularly non-English speakers; and
The balance of vaccination efforts between the cancer center and community settings.
The panel will continue to meet regularly in order to refine the recommendations for these and other issues, as they come up. Any open questions can also serve as a guide for areas where new research is most needed.
“The medical community is rising to one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced,” said Robert W. Carlson, MD, Chief Executive Officer, NCCN. “The COVID-19 vaccines exemplify the heights of scientific achievement. Now we have to distribute them quickly, equitably, safely and, efficiently, using clearly defined and transparent principles.”
Crystal S. Denlinger, MD, FACP, Named Chief Scientific Officer for NCCN
NCCN announced the appointment of Crystal S. Denlinger, MD, FACP, to the newly created role of Senior Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer. In this position, Dr. Denlinger will help to steer strategic direction for the nonprofit as well as oversee the NCCN Oncology Research Program (ORP). Her duties will also involve providing input into NCCN’s clinical information program, including the NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines), as well as various continuing education activities.
“Crystal exemplifies everything NCCN looks for in a leader, from her scientific rigor and curiosity, to her boundless commitment for improving the lives of people with cancer,” said Robert W. Carlson, MD, Chief Executive Officer, NCCN. “NCCN has been rapidly expanding our program for fostering innovation, knowledge discovery, and promising oncology investigation. Crystal is the perfect person to guide these collaborative research projects in order to improve the quality of cancer care worldwide.”
“I am honored to be joining NCCN as Chief Scientific Officer,” said Dr. Denlinger. “NCCN represents the highest standards in cancer care, working tirelessly through treatment guidelines, research programs, education, and advocacy to elevate and improve cancer care every day. I am excited to join the organization and its efforts to continually define optimal cancer care to ensure that those living with and through cancer can live their fullest lives.”
Dr. Denlinger has long been a nationwide leader in oncology. She currently holds several leadership positions with Fox Chase Cancer Center—an NCCN Member Institution—including Chief, Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology; Deputy Director, Early Drug Development Phase 1 Program; Director, Survivorship Program; and Associate Professor, Department of Hematology/Oncology. She graduated from a combined BS/MD program at The College of New Jersey and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, followed by residency with Mount Sinai Medical Center, and fellowship at Fox Chase Cancer Center/Temple University Hospital. She has authored hundreds of clinical research articles and abstracts and received awards from organizations that include the ASCO Foundation and the American College of Physicians.
Dr. Denlinger also has an impressive history with NCCN. She currently chairs the NCCN Guidelines Panel for Survivorship, and serves on the Esophageal/Gastric Cancers Panel, the JNCCN Editorial Board, and numerous abstract committees. She was named an NCCN Young Investigator Awardee in 2012 and received the NCCN Rodger Winn Award in 2018 for exemplifying leadership, drive, and commitment in service to developing clinical practice guidelines.
Dr. Denlinger will start at NCCN on April 15, 2021, while also continuing to see patients at Fox Chase Cancer Center in a limited, volunteer capacity.