Cancer Research at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

New Findings from the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium

When the novel coronavirus first began spreading across the U.S., it was unclear how it might affect people with cancer.

Dr. Gilberto Lopes is a medical oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. For more information on the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium, visit the UHealth health news blog.


When the novel coronavirus first began spreading across the U.S., it was unclear how it might affect people with cancer. In response, a small group of oncologists began using Twitter to discuss the need for a comprehensive patient database, thus launching the COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium.

“We started with five founding institutions and we now have more than a hundred institutions across the United States and around the world,” says Dr. Gilberto Lopes, a medical oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and one of the founding members of the group.

The COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium has enrolled more than 2,500 patients, yielding data that is providing doctors with a better understanding of the relationship between cancer and COVID-19. Initial findings were recently released at an international meeting of oncologists. In general, patients with cancer were found to have a higher chance of developing complications if infected with the novel coronavirus.

With safety top of mind, Sylvester has implemented new protocols to protect patients as they continue their treatments. Among other measures, physicians at Sylvester use personal protective equipment, no visitors are allowed, and patients are screened for COVID-19 symptoms, and are tested when necessary.

When new mom Tracey Hecht, 36, discovered blood in her breast milk while under quarantine for the pandemic, she initially did not want to go to the doctor. Her family insisted and she was diagnosed with breast cancer in early May. Tracey is being treated with chemotherapy at Sylvester at Plantation, under the care of Dr. Carmen Calfa. With a baby at home, Tracey had additional concerns about exposure to COVID-19.

“Sylvester has eased my mind about going into the clinic,” says Tracey. “Each time that I go in there I have my temperature taken three times. I have questions asked at least two times. All of the bases are covered. Anyone you encounter that is a provider is in head-to-toe PPE. All of the patients are in masks and kept at a distance. It gives me a lot of confidence that I can go in there and be as healthy as possible while getting my treatment.”

The importance of continuing treatment for patients with cancer is one of the most significant findings that has emerged from the COVID-19 Cancer Consortium, says Dr. Lopes. The research also showed that people who smoke and those patients who are older are at higher risks of complications.

“Our mission at Sylvester Comprehensive Center is not just to treat patients with cancer but to generate the treatments that would bring better results,” says Dr. Lopes. “We have done that through the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been one of the founding leading centers of the COVID-19 in cancer consortiums and this is how we generate information that has maximum impact for our patients.”


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