App aims to help cancer patients balance risk of COVID-19 infection


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Since the coronavirus pandemic began, a large number of people who would typically get screened for cancer aren’t doing it.

“Those who have cancer are not getting diagnosed and then they’re not getting into the treatment care process and that is likely to lead to at least 10,000 new cases of cancer deaths in the next couple of years, according to the National Cancer Institute,” said Washington Post Columnist Steven Petrow.

COVID-19 has also meant cancer patients have growing concerns as to whether going to get treatment heightens their risk of infection.

Petrow recently wrote about this issue and says a new app called OncCovid, developed by the University of Michigan Cancer Center, helps physicians balance that risk.

“If I’m in Houston right now where there is a surge there’s a greater likelihood that I could become infected in the hospital or anywhere else than let’s just say Montana where the prevalence is low. So this app factors in that as well as about 45 other characteristics to give a more personalized recommendation to physicians to then counsel their patients,” Petrow explained.

“Originally, that was my scare back in March and April was that I might have it and one of the reasons I came in but I found out it was leukemia instead,” said Jacey Zembal from his hospital bed at Duke.

Zembal is at the hospital to receive chemotherapy.

He’s also waiting on a bone marrow transplant.

The 45-year-old says a match was found in England but was canceled due to the pandemic.

He is consistently tested for COVID-19 when he comes into and leaves the hospital.

While his medical team has not used the OncCovid app, he sees it was hugely beneficial. 

“That’s the big thing in all this. That you know technology just makes the world shrink. You know I’m sure there was a point in time where communication in Montana and North Carolina would never occur now it can,” he said.

Around 50 medical facilities have already signed for the app so that their oncologists will have access to it.

“I think the last time we had an epidemic or pandemic there were no such things as apps so this is a great way to bring technology to help solve some of the really thorny dilemmas that people and patients are facing right now,” said Petrow.

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