What We're Reading: Excess Cancer Deaths Predicted; Senators Call for Probe of IRBs; US Hospitals Use Dexamethasone

June 19, 2020
AJMC Staff

The director of the National Cancer Institute said models predict excess cancer deaths in the thousands due to delayed care and screening; Democratic senators call for an investigation into for-profit institutional review boards; US hospitals begin administering dexamethasone to the sickest patients.

NCI Director Predicts Thousands of Excess Cancer Deaths Due to Care Delays

National Cancer Institute (NCI) Director Ned Sharpless, MD, warned that delays in cancer screenings and diagnoses due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic are likely to result in thousands of excess deaths, The Washington Post reports. This is because some cancers will now be found in later stages, making them harder to cure. Specifically, NCI models predict there will be 10,000 more breast and colorectal cancer deaths over the next decade, an increase of roughly 1%, due to these delays in care. The director explained that these estimates were based on a conservative analysis and the true mortality rate may be greater.

Senators Call for Probe of Institutional Review Boards

In an open letter to the Government Accountability Office, US Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont; and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, called for an investigation into private, for-profit institutional review boards (IRBs). The senators alleged that a preliminary investigation found the boards’ reviews of studies have significant vulnerabilities that may expose patients to unnecessary risks while participating in clinical trials. The letter prompts investigators to explore the current market structure for IRBs compared with academic or nonprofit IRBs, any inherent conflicts of interest that arise from their profit-seeking mission, and overall quality, efficiency, and effectiveness of the boards.

Hard-Hit US Hospitals Begin Using Dexamethasone

Hospitals throughout the country that are seeing surges in COVID-19 cases have begun to administer dexamethasone, a common steroid that showed preliminary beneficial results in British patients with the disease, before confirmation of the study results, Reuters reports. This move marks a shift in traditional hospital care, as doctors usually wait for detailed data published in a peer-reviewed journal, or guidelines issued from medical societies, before introducing a new treatment. The inexpensive steroid is the first drug shown to lower mortality risk in severely ill patients with COVID-19. A study conducted by Oxford University researchers found the steroid reduced death rates by around one-third, while Britain’s health ministry already approved its use.