Insights from Dr. Pat A. Basu, President & CEO, Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Pat A. Basu, MD, MBA, is a pioneering business leader, entrepreneur and Stanford University-trained physician who served as a senior White House advisor on then-President Obama’s economic and health agendas. Dr. Basu brings to CTCA a wealth of leadership experience gleaned from years spent in numerous senior executive positions in the business, government, clinical and not-for-profit sectors. He serves as President and Chief Executive Officer at Cancer Treatment Centers of America Global, Inc. In his role, Dr. Basu leads the strategic, operational and visionary direction of the national footprint of hospitals and outpatient care cancers in the Cancer Treatment Centers of Comprehensive Cancer Care Network, expanding patient access to the network’s signature comprehensive, personalized model of care and overseeing new business initiatives designed to enhance the delivery of high-quality, evidence-based oncology care. As a member of the CTCA National Board of Directors, he collaborates with other mission-driven visionaries to identify and deliver new, innovative therapies to heal the whole person, improve quality of life and restore hope for both patients and their caregivers.

How has COVID-19 impacted care for cancer patients?

Cancer is a disease that requires early, consistent, and complete therapy. And during the current pandemic, the need to access safe, high-quality oncology care has never been more important. With many hospital systems overburdened with COVID-19 patients, many were forced to delay, postpone or even cancel non-critical care, like important cancer screenings and even some procedures. This matters because for cancer patients, the unintended consequences start with those who don’t even know they have the disease yet, which is why screening is critical despite the outside forces. During the peak of the pandemic, cancer screenings plummeted at alarming rates, and while they have rebounded to an extent, there is still no doubt the pandemic will have a lasting impact on oncology care and patients in terms of untreated or undetected cancers.

What is the “shadow curve” and what is its significance in healthcare?

The cancer “shadow curve” is term that I dubbed that refers to the likely result of a dramatic spike in undiagnosed and untreated cancer cases as a side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic due to delayed care. According to a study in JAMA, during the height of the pandemic, the weekly number of newly diagnosed cancer patients with 6 common cancer types fell by 46.4% (from 4310 to 2310), with significant declines in all cancer types, ranging from 24.7% for pancreatic cancer to 51.8% for breast cancer. Essentially, cancer screenings are down; cancer diagnosis is down; predicted deaths are up.

What is the impact of deferred care on the workforce and what advice do you have for employers as they plan for 2022?

Data tells us that delays in screening for any reason can lead to a higher staged cancer diagnosis if not found early which can be determinantal or even fatal to someone’s health (latest stats linked here). By taking immediate, proactive steps in disease detection and treatment, we can reduce the possibility that illness and deaths from undiagnosed conditions such as cancer become more pervasive than those from COVID-19 itself.

Additionally, experts predict the effects of delayed cancer screenings and care will disproportionately hit communities of color, who already face higher cancer death rates, and experienced higher COVID-19 death rates. It’s important to bring awareness and education, particularly among certain racial and ethnic minority groups and rural populations, around this topic and encourage screenings.

Employers should help their workforce overcome barriers to health equity by educating them about the importance of routine screening, addressing their concerns about COVID-19 transmission, and helping them to safely access screening.

How are you and the team at Cancer Treatment Centers of America working to combat the “shadow curve”?

As clinicians, we always focus on the patients in greatest immediate need, which in this current crisis would seem to be COVID-19 patients. But we must not lose sight of the tens of millions of other patients who also need our assistance now. There is an enormous imperative for specialty institutions like CTCA to bring in reinforcements to their local community hospitals that need beds and resources, by treating their non-COVID patients as their own until we get through this current crisis.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America remains fully operational, has exceptional safety measure in place to keep COVID-19 out of our facilities, and has immediate availability for those seeking options (more detailed info here). We are also leveraging telehealth to remain engaged with the patients who cannot and should not travel to facilities for their regular appointments and to connect with care teams when displaced patients come to specialty care hospitals for care.

What do you recommend for Americans experiencing delays in care?

There are three simple steps we are urging people to take to safely regain control of their cancer care:

  1. Re-schedule a cancelled visit. If you or your doctor cancelled or postponed a test or treatment, reschedule as soon as possible.
  2. Don’t give up. If the first treatment center or hospital you call can’t accommodate your request, call others to schedule the treatment you need. With current spikes of COVID-19, some facilities are overwhelmed. However, there are other facilities, and specialty treatment centers like ours across the country, that can see patients within a normal timeframe. Make that second or third phone call to schedule the screening or treatment you need.
  3. Know your benefits: You may be able to choose an out-of-network provider if your in-network options are unavailable. Check with your insurance agent.