Evolving Therapies in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia - Episode 2

Impact of COVID-19 on Management of CLL

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William Wierda, MD, PhD: Something that has changed over the past 4 months is the COVID-19 [coronavirus disease-2019] experience—dealing with COVID-19 in our medical centers, our institutions, and in our patient population. I think Dr Shadman and Dr Allan probably have more experience than Dr Burke and myself in terms of treating patients who are COVID-19 positive, being in Seattle and in New York City, respectively.

I would like to hear a little bit from each of you in terms of how you are managing patients in the watch and waits, particularly thinking about COVID-19. Do you do different things for patients with CLL [chronic lymphocytic leukemia] in the COVID-19 era that you didn't do previously? What has been your experience with COVID-19 in the last several months?

Mazyar Shadman, MD, MPH: This is a very dynamic situation. The prevalence of COVID-19 is changing. When we were in the peak of the pandemic, we made decisions consistent with what had been published by different expert groups. In general, for patients who are in the watch and wait period, most of the time, conversations about starting treatment are not overnight conversations. We usually have weeks or months before we start a patient on treatment. With that, a lot of patients who need treatment can wait, and the treatment could be delayed for weeks or months.

For example, if the patient has a low blood count, such as thrombocytopenia, but not at a high-risk level, we would be able to monitor that patient closely. We utilize local labs for these patients, for patients who come from areas that are far from our center. We use telehealth platforms and telemedicine to talk to them and review their lab results. This has been our practice in the past few months. As things are changing and as we passed the peak, we are starting to slowly go back to our normal practice.

There are patients who need treatment, and I think it is important to emphasize the fact that it is always important to make sure that we can offer treatment to patients who need it. Unfortunately, we have had a few patients who were not referred in a timely manner or decided to wait until the end of the pandemic. As a result, we had a more complicated situation in terms of starting treatment. For patients on treatment, especially those on novel agents, if they have a stable disease and there were no adverse effects, we try to minimize their visits by utilizing telemedicine and local labs when possible. Most of the time, if they receive intravenous therapy, for example, using monoclonal antibodies in combination with some of the novel agents, most of the time those treatments can be skipped or delayed, and we've been doing that.

Really, the strategy is to minimize the patients’ exposure to the health facilities and help them practice the physical distancing that we are advising them to do.

Transcript Edited for Clarity