June 01, 2020

My cancer surgery has been delayed due to COVID-19. Is this safe?

Q: I was diagnosed with an early stage cancer and was scheduled to have the cancer surgically removed. However, due to COVID-19, the procedure has been delayed by several months. Is this approach safe or should I be seeking a second opinion on care?

A: This is a tough question to answer because there are so many types of cancer and an enormous variety of individual circumstances. As a first step, reach out to your surgeon or cancer care team for a clear explanation of why the decision was made to delay your surgery. This may help you understand how the risks of going ahead with surgery compare to the risks of delaying surgery. If there are risks to delaying an operation, it’s important to understand them and to explore any alternative therapies that can be used to decrease this risk while waiting for your surgery.

In general, cancer care teams — including surgeons — around the world are working to balance the need for providing essential curative or symptom-reducing care with the need to protect medical staff and patients who must be in hospitals and surgical centers from COVID-19. In addition, resources — such as available personal protective equipment, hospital beds, ICU beds or ventilators — may be scarce in some locations due to a high volume of COVID-19-related care. Health care workers also may be sick or quarantined.

National cancer organizations have rapidly developed guidelines to help decision-making for specific cancer types. Although decisions on cancer care are individualized, general recommendations during the pandemic include:

  • Performing surgeries only for people with cancers that can't wait two to three months and who have a significant chance of benefiting from the surgeries. This includes surgery to relieve symptoms such as pain, bleeding or blockages in...