Esophageal cancer treatment amid COVID-19: Q&A with Shanda Blackmon, M.D., M.P.H.

May 13, 2020

Shanda Blackmon, M.D., M.P.H., is a thoracic surgeon and professor of surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Dr. Blackmon provides her perspective on how COVID-19 has affected esophageal cancer treatment and what patients should know about receiving care during this pandemic.

How has coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) affected esophageal cancer treatment?

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has severely affected the treatment of patients who have esophageal cancer. Screenings, diagnosis and treatments for many individuals have been delayed because of inactivity and unavailability of gastrointestinal procedures. These individuals may now be facing advanced disease.

We want to make sure patients with esophageal cancer have ready access to up-to-date staging, diagnosis and treatment, as well as enrollment into clinical trials and minimally invasive treatment.

Mayo Clinic is now accepting patients who might have esophageal cancer. Patients can come to any of our campus locations in Arizona, Florida or Minnesota and be rapidly assessed, diagnosed, staged and treated.

What should patients with esophageal cancer know about COVID-19 risks?

I cannot imagine how stressful it must be to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Having cancer and undergoing cancer treatment that may cause a patient to be immunocompromised can certainly be a stressful situation.

Isolation and delays in care add additional layers of stress on patients. All of this can have an impact on one's mental health. These patients may need additional physical and emotional support.

Patients who have esophageal cancer can sometimes receive some of their treatment close to home. The care needs and goals of each patient are discussed and incorporated into their treatment plan.

Which patients should be referred to Mayo Clinic at this time?

Patients can be referred to Mayo Clinic if it's suspected that they might have esophageal cancer or if it's known that they have esophageal cancer. Mayo Clinic is currently receiving patients in order to evaluate them, diagnose them and stage them, and get them to their treatment as quickly as possible.

What is Mayo Clinic doing to protect patients and staff?

We want to make sure that patients understand that their cancer treatment is being performed in the safest and most protective way. Mayo Clinic is taking steps to protect the safety of our patients and medical staff.

Every patient coming to Mayo Clinic is screened for COVID-19. We ask our patients a series of very specific questions, take our patients' temperatures, have health screeners stationed at all clinic and hospital entrances, make sure that patients and staff are all wearing personal protective equipment when appropriate, and masks are worn by everyone. With our real-time polymerase chain reaction testing, we can detect whether or not they have COVID-19, and treat them appropriately.

Patients who do not have COVID-19 are cared for in a very specific way to protect them from becoming infected.