A snapshot on radiotherapy for head and neck cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic: a survey of the Italian Association of Radiotherapy and Clinical Oncology (AIRO) head and neck working group

Head and Neck Cancer

Radiol Med. 2020 Oct 6. doi: 10.1007/s11547-020-01296-7. Online ahead of print.


OBJECTIVES: The objective of the paper was to assess real-life experience in the management of head and neck cancer (HNC) patients during the COVID-19 pandemic in radiotherapy departments and to evaluate the variability in terms of adherence to American Society of Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) and European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO) recommendations.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: In May 2020, an anonymous 30-question online survey, comparing acute phase of outbreak and pre-COVID-19 period, was conducted. Two sections exploited changes in general management of HNC patients and different HNC primary tumors, addressing specific statements from ASTRO ESTRO consensus statement as well.

RESULTS: Eighty-eight questionnaires were included in the demographic/clinical workflow analysis, and 64 were analyzed for treatment management. Forty-eight percent of radiotherapy departments became part of oncologic hubs. First consultations reduced, and patients were addressed to other centers in 33.8 and 18.3% of cases, respectively. Telematic consultations were used in 50% of follow-up visits and 73.9% of multidisciplinary tumor board discussions. There were no practical changes in the management of patients affected by different primitive HNCs. Hypofractionation was not favored over conventional schedules.

CONCLUSIONS: Compared to pre-COVID era, the clinical workflow was highly re-organized, whereas there were no consistent changes in RT indications and schedules.