Cancer Care Continues

Stony Brook University Cancer Center remains open to treat current and new patients

Stony Brook University Cancer Center is not on pause. The Cancer Center’s doctors, nurses and staff are here to care for current patients with cancer and can advise anyone seeking guidance about how to initiate cancer care. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, extra safety precautions have been implemented for the health and well-being of both patients and staff. 

“We are following national guidelines for patient safety,” said Aaron Sasson, MD, Chief, Surgical Oncology, and Director, Cancer Center Clinical Operations, Stony Brook Cancer Center. “Patients are not being short-changed on their therapy because of COVID-19. We are taking steps to modify some processes to limit exposure, but our patients are still receiving the excellent care they’ve come to expect.” 

Patients who are currently being treated for cancer continue to have appointments with their physicians. Their follow-up appointments are also being regularly scheduled. New patients with referrals from their primary doctors to the Cancer Center or those who are contacting the Cancer Center directly because of symptoms and need to have diagnostic tests, are also being seen. 

“We are still conducting face-to-face appointments, where all of the personal protection protocols are in place. Our patients are working with their Cancer Center physicians to come up with a plan that is individualized for them, in terms of the best way to communicate during the crisis, whether it is by telephone or telehealth services,” Dr. Sasson said. “And new patients should not put off symptoms. If they have concerns about symptoms that need to be investigated, we can help them through it.”

To meet patients’ needs, there are several ways in which the Cancer Center is currently approaching cancer care during the pandemic, including the use of Telehealth, patient safety modifications, triaging an approach to care, patient support services, and the continuation of clinical trials.  

• Telehealth
Whenever possible, the medical team utilizes Telehealth visits, which allow patients to receive high-quality care from the safety and privacy of their home. This appointment option is arranged with a member of the healthcare team and the patient, and can be used for initial visits, appointments concerning treatment and follow-up care. Of course, if a patient needs to be seen in person by a doctor, those visits continue to be scheduled.

Dr. Sasson said that patients are appreciative of Telehealth because they don't have to leave the house, they can still speak to the doctor, and they can have family with them to listen and participate on the call. 

• In-person Treatment 
Patient safety is always a top priority at the Cancer Center. Several new measures have been implemented due to the pandemic, for the continued safety of patients as well as that of healthcare staff.

•    Time spent in the waiting rooms is being minimized by patients waiting in their cars or socially distancing by more than six feet, so exposure is minimized when waiting to come in for their appointment. 
•    Upon entering the building, each patient is welcomed by a staff member wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) who takes their temperature and asks them screening questions, such as if they have a cough, shortness of breath or other respiratory symptoms. 
•    Each patient is given a mask.
•    Processes have been put in place to provide the least amount of contact with others, and when possible, no contact at all.  
•    Distancing and plexiglass counter shields are in place to offer separation at check-in counters.
•    All the standard hygiene requirements are being followed, which means medical professionals wear gloves, PPE, and wash or disinfect their hands frequently.
•    Although patients may not bring anyone with them for appointments, their family member or friend can wait in the car for them. 

“All of these steps are geared toward protecting patients who are vulnerable to greater risks and complications if they were to be COVID positive,” Dr. Sasson said. 

• Patients with COVID-19
If a patient with cancer is diagnosed with COVID-19, treatment decisions are made based on the severity of the viral illness along with the specific characteristics of his or her cancer and treatment options. “These decisions are uniquely determined for each individual,” Dr. Sasson said. “Fortunately, our oncologists have a specialty focus and the expertise necessary to care for our patients, even with this added illness.”  

• Triaging the Approach to Care
Patients who require chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery are still receiving these treatments. However, some of the treatment locations have been modified. For the list of locations, click here

But when it is medically appropriate, some procedures are being put on hold. For instance, for slow-growing cancers like the majority of thyroid cancers, many early-stage breast cancers and prostate cancers, surgery can easily be delayed without harm for the majority of patients. Even with aggressive cancers, when possible, patients are receiving therapy to temporarily delay their surgery. The decision to delay surgery is made with the patient. Patients prefer to wait until their family can visit them during their hospital stay. 

“Not having their family and friends visit during a hospital stay or a visit concerns our patients,” Dr. Sasson said. “Telling patients, even with pancreas cancer, that they can get chemotherapy prior to surgery and temporarily delay their surgery, reduces their anxiety and makes them feel better about their overall care.”

• Care for Children with Cancer
Our Pediatric Hematology/Oncology team is continuing to provide children with a multidisciplinary approach to cancer care. Children and adolescents can bring a parent or family member with them to their appointments and treatments. Just as for adult services, extra safety precautions are in place. Both the child and accompanying adult are screened and given masks to wear. 

“Our entire staff understands the added anxiety for the child and the parent during this unprecedented time,” said Laura Hogan, MD, Chief, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. “We are taking all precautions to make sure the child feels well cared for and understands why things have changed slightly during their appointments.”

The location for pediatric hematology and oncology care has been temporarily relocated. For the temporary locations, please click here

• Support for Patients
Nurse navigators and coordinators regularly keep in touch with those who have ongoing cancer care, as well as new patients. Now, patient support services are offered by phone, and nutritional counseling is offered through Telehealth. Social workers provide support with issues related to patient care. They can also help with arranging transportation through Uber Health to our temporary location for chemotherapy appointments at The Phillips Family Cancer Center in Southampton.

“It’s important for patients to know that we’re still here for them,” said Julia Mischo, RN, MSN, OCN, Associate Director of Nursing for Outpatient Cancer Services. “Even though some of our staff are working remotely, they’re still available by phone at the same numbers as always to help our patients if they have questions, whether it be about COVID or their cancer treatment. The feedback we’ve gotten is that our patients are very grateful that we are accessible at this time.” 

• Cancer Clinical Trials Program
The Cancer Center continues its well-established and robust Clinical Trials Program with more than 100 clinical trials available for patients. The program allows scientists and doctors to develop unique clinical trials, some offered only at Stony Brook Cancer Center. Patients can ask their doctor if there is an appropriate clinical trial for their type of cancer. 

Stony Brook Cancer Center’s approach to care has always been to treat and address the unique needs of the individual when creating a personalized plan of care. Our team of experts can address any concerns about a cancer diagnosis or cancer treatment, so there is no reason to delay seeking cancer care during the pandemic.

For appointments or questions about cancer care, please call (631) SB-CANCER (722-2623).