The Impact of COVID-19 on Head and Neck Cancer Treatment: Before and During the Pandemic

Roberto N. Solis, Mehrnaz Mehrzad, Samya Faiq, Roberto P. Frusciante, Harveen K. Sekhon, Marianne Abouyared, Arnaud F. Bewley, D. Gregory Farwell, Andrew C. Birkeland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: To describe the impact that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic had on the presentation of patients with head and neck cancer in a single tertiary care center. Study Design: Retrospective cohort study. Setting: Academic institution. Methods: We performed a retrospective review of patients with newly diagnosed head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) who presented as new patients between September 10, 2019, and September 11, 2020. Patients presenting during the 6 months leading up to the announcement of the pandemic (pre–COVID-19 period) on March 11, 2020, were compared to those presenting during the first 6 months of the pandemic (COVID-19 period). Demographics, time to diagnosis and treatment, and tumor characteristics were analyzed. Results: There were a total of 137 patients analyzed with newly diagnosed malignancies. There were 22% fewer patients evaluated during the COVID-19 timeframe. The groups were similar in demographics, duration of symptoms, time to diagnosis, time to surgery, extent of surgery, and adjuvant therapy. There was a larger proportion of tumors classified as T3/T4 (61.7%) in the COVID-19 period vs the pre–COVID-19 period (40.3%) (P =.024), as well as a larger median tumor size during the COVID-19 period (P =.0002). There were no differences between nodal disease burden (P =.48) and distant metastases (P =.42). Conclusion: Despite similar characteristics, time to diagnosis, and surgery, our findings suggest that there was an increase in primary tumor burden in patients with HNSCC during the early COVID-19 pandemic.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalOTO Open
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • COVID-19
  • delays in care
  • head and neck cancer
  • head and neck cancer care
  • pandemic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Surgery


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