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Head and Neck Cancer Surgery Seems Safe During COVID-19

Links seen for severe pulmonary complications in COVID-19-positive patients with advanced tumor stage, critical care admission

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TUESDAY, Dec. 29, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Head and neck cancer surgery appears to be safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published online Dec. 21 in Cancer.

Researchers from the COVIDSurg Collaborative conducted an international, observational cohort study involving 1,137 consecutive patients from 26 countries with head and neck cancer undergoing primary surgery with curative intent. Factors associated with severe pulmonary complications in COVID-19-positive patients were examined.

The researchers found that overall 30-day mortality was 1.2 percent. Within 30 days of surgery, 3 percent (29 patients) tested positive for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Thirteen of these patients (44.8 percent) developed severe pulmonary complications; 10 and three were discharged and died, respectively. Severe pulmonary complications in COVID-19-positive patients were significantly correlated with advanced tumor stage and admission to critical care. In 40 cases (3.5 percent), members of the surgical team tested positive within 30 days of surgery. Members of the surgical team testing positive was significantly associated with operations in which the patient tested positive within 30 days, higher community incidence of SARS-CoV-2, patients who had been screened for SARS-CoV-2 preoperatively, oral tumor sites, use of tracheostomy, and surgical complications (odds ratios, 10.3, 4.0, 2.9, 5.3, 2.6, and 3.5, respectively).

"Along with early data on the safety of chemotherapy, it appears that with some mitigations, standard cancer therapy for head and neck cancers need not be withheld during the COVID-19 pandemic even in high-incidence regions," the authors write.

One author disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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