National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®)

NCCN Policy Summit Explores How COVID-19 Pandemic Can Lead to Improvements in Cancer Care

Virtual #NCCNPolicy summit convened by National Comprehensive Cancer Network addresses opportunities for improving oncology policy based on lessons from the coronavirus crisis

Newswise — PLYMOUTH MEETING, PA [June 15, 2021] — Today, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) hosted a virtual NCCN Policy Summit examining the impact of the past year on oncology policy in America. The program, “Defining the ‘New Normal’— 2021 and the State of Cancer Care in America Following 2020,” brought together a diverse group of experts to discuss the resumption of recommended screening and clinical trials, how to apply health innovations from the COVID-19 pandemic to cancer treatment, and what concrete steps can be taken to address the systemic inequalities that lead to disparities in outcomes.

“The medical community has proven that rapid, extraordinary progress can be made when we respond to a threat like the COVID-19 pandemic with the urgency, focus, and collaboration it demands,” said Crystal S. Denlinger, MD, FACP, Senior Vice President, Chief Scientific Officer, NCCN. “We have the opportunity to improve cancer treatment and research by not just reverting to pre-pandemic standards, but reimagining how we move care forward. We’ve learned a lot over the past year about how to do better when it comes to providing health care; now we must apply that knowledge to oncology.”

“Partnership drives equitable care, and the CMS Office of Minority health is committed to advancing collaboration for all our beneficiaries and consumers,” said LaShawn McIver, MD, MPH, Director, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Office of Minority Health. “The current public health emergency illuminates the barriers we’ve broken down, and those we still must overcome—particularly for people hard hit by health disparities. Opportunities like the NCCN Policy Summit underscore both the importance and breadth of collaboration needed across healthcare to advance equitable solutions.”  

The speakers and panelists presented some of the latest data on health trends over the past year, while cautioning that much of that research is still early and ongoing. Some key areas of focus included:

  • Reducing barriers that prevent people from getting recommended health screenings and care in a timely fashion;
  • Maintaining telehealth options wherever beneficial to patients (e.g. survivorship care);
  • Utilizing electronic health records (EHRs) as a patient/provider portal for communication;
  • Funding the resumption of the basic science research pipeline for clinical trials;
  • Leveraging real-world evidence to broaden knowledge beyond the typical clinical trial population;
  • Recognizing and addressing bias and lack of diversity in medical care providers; and
  • Addressing the social determinants of health that result in disparities in outcomes.

"Cancer Care in the United States has evolved in the face of a global pandemic,” said Timothy Kubal, MD, MBA, Senior Medical Director, Moffitt Cancer Center, Co-Chair of the NCCN Best Practices Committee. “Despite this evolution in practice and process, each day we continue to lose the lives of people we love. The purpose of policy change is to lead us somewhere different; to take us to a better place where those lives are saved instead of lost. Our world has changed; our policy cannot stay the same."

NCCN is actively involved in several initiatives addressing some of the issues discussed, such as:

  • Cancer Won’t Wait and Neither Should You: An endorsement of the safe resumption of cancer screening and treatment, jointly with the American Cancer Society and 75 other cancer organizations.
  • Elevating Cancer Equity: Recommendations to Reduce Racial Disparities in Access to Guideline Adherent Cancer Care, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the National Minority Quality Forum
  • NCCN Best Practices Webinar Series: A series on COVID-19 and Cancer Center operations

Additional speakers included:

  • Murray Aitken, MBA, Executive Director, IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science
  • Jeff Allen, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer, Friends of Cancer Research
  • Keysha Brooks-Coley, Vice President, Federal Advocacy and Strategic Alliances, ‎American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network
  • Jennifer Malin, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer, Oncology & Genetics, UnitedHealthcare

Additional quotes:

Sarah Alwardt, Vice President of Operations at Ontada says:

“Although we do not yet know the full impact of COVID-19, one clear outcome has been the massive public education on the importance of real-world evidence in clinical trials. We have now reached the tipping point in using real-world data to accelerate trial design and populations. We’ve demonstrated that this real-world evidence can be trusted and I hope that we ensure this momentum carries forward.”

Shonta Chambers, MSW, Executive Vice President of Health Equity Initiatives and Community Engagement, Patient Advocate Foundation says:

“As we think about elevating cancer equity, we can’t ignore the impact of the social determinants of health hindering people’s ability to access and adhere to cancer care. These determinants have political underpinnings that continue to perpetuate disparate outcomes among populations of color. We have to systematically assess social needs gaps in the content of healthcare delivery for all patients, and create sustainable partnership and collaborations with entities best positioned to respond to them locally and nationally. Healthcare outcomes are not limited to the four walls of the healthcare systems, we must account for the social context of one's healthcare and act on tangible solutions to respond to them. That is how we elevate cancer equity for everyone.”

Jennie Crews, MD, Vice President and Medical Director, SCCA Community and Network Programs, at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance says:

“The COVID-19 pandemic is driving rapid innovation in cancer care delivery which will continue to influence how cancer care evolves going forward. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, like many of our peers across the nation, quickly adapted to incorporate the rapid pace of knowledge and data around COVID-19, modified clinical care and clinical trials, and addressed issues such as disparities in access to care. We experienced rapid and widespread adoption of virtual care for patient visits and monitoring, allowing SCCA to continue to provide care in ways that met patient needs through nearly 30,000 virtual visits.”

Gwen Darien, Executive Vice President for Patient Advocacy and Engagement, National Patient Advocate Foundation says:

“Two years ago, we were all talking about personalized medicine. As a result of the pandemic, I’m increasingly interested in talking about personal medicine. How do we create and maintain personal connections when the modern office visit is only 15 minutes? I spent much of my childhood waiting in the car while my dad—an internist in Milwaukee—made house calls. He knew his patients so well. Telehealth is still in its nascent form, so we have the opportunity to sculpt it into a contemporary house call, allowing health care providers to see the challenges and barriers patients face and the social context of their health.”

Pamela Kunz, MD, Vice Chief, Diversity Equity and Inclusion, Medical Oncology, Director for the Center for Gastrointestinal Cancers, Yale Cancer Center and Smilow Cancer Hospital says:

“In order for us to provide equitable patient care, we also need to achieve diversity and equity in our professional workforce. These are inextricably linked.”

Christopher Lathan, MD, MS, MPH, Chief Clinical Access and Equity Officer, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says:

“What we’ve learned from the COVID experience is when we want to, we are able to recruit diverse patients to clinical trials. This shows that these barriers can be overcome with resources and willpower. If we really want to ensure our vulnerable patients are reengaging with preventive and diagnostic services, we must have the will and resources to support them appropriately.”

Andrea D. Willis, MD, MPH, FAAP, Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee

"The COVID crisis taught us that we can make things happen when we all rally around a cause.  The call to reduce health disparities when it comes to cancer treatment and prevention is not a new one but the momentum we currently have to realize health equity requires a stronger response."

The next NCCN Virtual Policy Summit will take place on Thursday, September 9, and focus on ‘The Impact of Technology on Cancer Care in 2021.’ For more information, visit and join the conversation with the hashtag #NCCNPolicy.

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About the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®) is a not-for-profit alliance of leading cancer centers devoted to patient care, research, and education. NCCN is dedicated to improving and facilitating quality, effective, efficient, and accessible cancer care so patients can live better lives. The NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®) provide transparent, evidence-based, expert consensus recommendations for cancer treatment, prevention, and supportive services; they are the recognized standard for clinical direction and policy in cancer management and the most thorough and frequently-updated clinical practice guidelines available in any area of medicine. The NCCN Guidelines for Patients® provide expert cancer treatment information to inform and empower patients and caregivers, through support from the NCCN Foundation®. NCCN also advances continuing education, global initiatives, policy, and research collaboration and publication in oncology. Visit for more information and follow NCCN on Facebook @NCCNorg, Instagram @NCCNorg, and Twitter @NCCN.


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