Pandemic Delayed Treatment in Patients With CTCL, Study Finds

The early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic caused an average treatment delay of 3.2 months for 53% of patients with cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL), results from a retrospective study of nine international centers showed. However, among patients with CTCL diagnosed with COVID-19 during that time, no cases were acquired from outpatient visits.

“Delays in therapy for patients with cutaneous lymphomas should likely be avoided,” two of the study authors, Larisa J. Geskin, MD, of the department of dermatology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, New York, and Bradley D. Kwinta, a medical student at Columbia University, told this news organization in a combined response via email.

“Continuing treatment and maintenance therapy appears critical to avoiding disease progression, highlighting the importance of maintenance therapy in CTCL,” they said. “These patients can be safely treated according to established treatment protocols while practicing physical distancing and using personal protective equipment without significantly increasing their risk of COVID-19 infection.”

The United States Cutaneous Lymphoma Consortium and the European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer developed emergency guidelines for the management of patients with cutaneous lymphomas during the pandemic to ensure patient safety, and the International Society for Cutaneous Lymphomas created an International Cutaneous Lymphomas Pandemic Section to collect data to assess the impact of these guidelines.

“Using this data, we can determine if these measures were effective in preventing COVID-19 infection, what the impact was of maintenance therapy, and how delays in treatment affected disease outcomes in CTCL patients,” the authors and their colleagues wrote in the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

They retrospectively analyzed data from the electronic medical records of 149 patients with CTCL who were being managed at one of nine international academic medical centers in seven countries from March to October 2020. Slightly more than half (56%) were male, 70% were White, 18% were Black, 52% had stage IA-IIA disease, and 19% acquired COVID-19 during the study period.

Of the 149 patients, 79 (53%) experienced a mean treatment delay of 3.2 months (range, 10 days to 10 months). After adjusting for age, race, biological sex, COVID-19 status, and disease stage, treatment delay was associated with a significant risk of disease relapse or progression across all stages (odds ratio, 5.00; P < .001). Specifically, for each additional month that a patient experienced treatment delay, the odds of disease progression increased by 37% (OR, 1.37; P < .001).

A total of 28 patients with CTCL (19%) were diagnosed with COVID-19, but none were acquired from outpatient office visits. Patients who contracted COVID-19 did not have a statistically significant increase in odds of disease progression, compared with COVID-negative patients (OR, 0.41; = .07).

According to Geskin, who is also director of the Comprehensive Skin Cancer Center in the division of cutaneous oncology in the department of dermatology at Columbia, and Mr. Kwinta, no clinical trials exist to inform maintenance protocols in patients with cutaneous lymphomas. “There are also no randomized and controlled observational studies that demonstrate the impact that therapy delay may have on disease outcomes,” they said in the email. “In fact, the need for maintenance therapy for CTCL is often debated. Our findings demonstrate the importance of continuing treatment and the use of maintenance therapy in avoiding disease progression in these incurable lymphomas.”

They acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its retrospective observational design. “Therefore, we cannot establish a definitive causal link between treatment delay and disease progression,” they said. “Our cohort of patients were on various and often multiple therapies, making it hard to extrapolate our data to discern which maintenance therapies were most effective in preventing disease progression.”

In addition, their data only includes patients from March to October 2020, “before the discovery of new variants and the development of COVID-19 vaccines,” they added. “Additional studies would be required to draw conclusions on how COVID-19 vaccines may affect patients with CTCL, including outcomes in the setting of new variants.”

The authors reported having no financial disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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