Collaborating to support continuing cancer care for Ukrainians

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As a global cancer society, ASCO represents oncology professionals in Ukraine and its neighboring countries, including Poland, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia, and Hungary.

Since the Russian invasion began, millions of Ukrainian refugees have fled to these bordering countries. Many of these refugees are now forced to seek cancer care elsewhere.1 Hundreds of thousands more Ukrainians have abandoned their homes and moved westward within Ukraine to get further from the war-ravaged borders with Russia.2

ASCO has been in constant communication with its members and other oncology care providers in Ukraine and the surrounding region. We are hearing daily reports of cancer treatment interrupted by acts of war, including damage to medical facilities and shortages of critical supplies. Countless patients now need to find cancer care in new and unfamiliar surroundings with limited (if any) medical records and minimal resources. 

An oncologist with the National Cancer Institute of Ukraine spoke from her home in Kyiv for an ASCO Daily News podcast episode about the humanitarian crisis. 

According to Dr. Mariia Kukushkina, patients and providers are having difficulty getting safely to hospitals and treatment centers due to hostilities; cancer centers are having to provide systemic treatment in the basements of their buildings due to air raids multiple times per day; and medical information is being lost when homes are destroyed.

Together with our European members and international collaborators, ASCO is providing active support for oncology care in Ukraine and the surrounding countries receiving displaced Ukrainian patients.

In collaboration with the World Health Organization, ASCO and numerous other organizations are helping to identify and respond to the most pressing cancer-related needs during the large-scale humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. We are helping to locate and compile a list of facilities with current capacity where Ukrainian refugees can be referred for treatment. 

Not only will this information be extraordinarily helpful to patients as they seek cancer care, but it will also help health care providers as they seek to find centers that are equipped to care for these displaced patients with cancer who come to them seeking treatment. As soon as it’s available, a link to this information will be posted on our website.

In addition, we are collaborating with the European Cancer Organisation to coordinate our organizations’ response, led by a joint ASCO-ECO Steering Committee that meets regularly. The steering committee, which includes oncologists Dr. Andriy Hrynkiv in Ukraine, Dr. Nicoleta Antone in Romania, and Drs. Jacek Jassem and Piotr Rutkowski in Poland, is enabling the two organizations to share information and insights they’ve gathered from their sources to determine the highest priorities of need within the region and avenues through which to deliver what is most needed to help displaced patients with cancer avoid life-threatening disruptions in their cancer care.

As part of this collaboration, the two organizations also are sharing resources and working with regional organizations, members, and health care facilities. To formalize and broaden this regional collaboration, on March 10, 2022, ASCO and ECO launched a special network of organizations and individuals engaged in the Ukraine crisis that includes professional societies, patient organizations, international agencies, and other stakeholders. 

The network, which will be co-chaired by ASCO president-elect Dr. Eric Winer, is intended to serve as a platform for an effective, coordinated response to the crisis.

ASCO also has expanded its recent content-sharing collaboration with the American Cancer Society. In an effort to help doctors and patients in the war-torn region more quickly and easily find the kind of information they’re likely to need, the two organizations are making free cancer resources available in English, Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian through their patient information websites, www.cancer.net/ukraine and www.cancer.org/ukrainesupport, with additional patient education resources planned.

Moreover, ASCO has collaborated with ACS and the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Jefferson Health to launch a network of oncologists and oncology nurses to provide support to Ukraine and the border countries through ACS’s Clinician Volunteer Corps. 

The corps is serving as a resource to those in need in Eastern Europe by enabling health professional volunteers to work with ACS National Cancer Information Center team members to field inquiries from patients, family members, and clinicians. 

ASCO members, particularly those who speak Ukrainian, Polish, Romanian, and other languages from the affected region, are volunteering their expertise to help field questions that are coming in from hospitals, health care providers, and patients in Ukraine and the surrounding countries. ASCO member oncologists and oncology nurses who are interested in volunteering should email international@asco.org for more information. 

ASCO also has developed two online resource centers: one for oncologists and other health care professionals searching for information, guidance, and opportunities to help address the life-threatening disruptions in cancer care that are unfolding in Ukraine, and the other for patients and caregivers in Ukraine and the surrounding region who are seeking information about cancer for themselves or loved ones. The professional resource center is the society’s central repository for all Ukraine-related information and resources; it is available at asco.org/ukraine and will be updated with collated resources for as long as needed. 

A curated list of patient information resources to help people with cancer navigate their care during the crisis in Ukraine is available here

On Friday, March 18 at 9:00 a.m. (ET), ASCO will host a free, one-hour webinar to discuss the crisis in Ukraine as it relates to the cancer community. The webinar is open to anyone and will provide an update on the Ukrainian refugee situation and reports from oncologists in Ukraine, Poland, and Romania on the impact of the war on the care of patients with cancer, resources and networks developed to support oncology clinicians and their patients in the region by ACS, ECO, and ASCO, as well as opportunities to assist Ukrainian patients and health care providers. More details on the webinar are being posted at www.ASCO.org/Ukraine as they become available.

In the face of the dire humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, ASCO is compelled by our mission and grateful for the opportunity to work together with other organizations in a truly global effort to protect the health and well-being of people with cancer everywhere.


References

  1. United Nations. “Operational Data Portal. Ukraine Refugee Situation.” https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine#:~:text=As%20the%20situation%20continues%20to,refugee%2Dhosting%20countries’%20efforts. Accessed March 4, 2022.
  2. BBC News. “How many refugees have fled Ukraine and where are they going?” March 3, 2022. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-60555472
Chief medical officer, Executive vice president, American Society of Clinical Oncology
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