Introduction: A rapid deploy of unexpected early impact of the COVID pandemic in Spain was described in 2020. Oncology practice was revised to facilitate decision-making regarding multimodal therapy for prevalent cancer types amenable to multidisciplinary treatment in which the radiotherapy component searched more efficient options in the setting of the COVID-19 pandemic, minimizing the risks to patients whilst aiming to guarantee cancer outcomes.
Methods: A novel Proton Beam Therapy (PBT), Unit activity was analyzed in the period of March 2020 to March 2021. Institutional urgent, strict and mandatory clinical care standards for early diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19 infection were stablished in the hospital following national health-authorities' recommendations. The temporary trends of patients care and research projects proposals were registered.
Results: 3 out of 14 members of the professional staff involved in the PBR intra-hospital process had a positive test for COVID infection. Also, 4 out of 100 patients had positive tests before initiating PBT, and 7 out of 100 developed positive tests along the weekly mandatory special checkup performed during PBT to all patients. An update of clinical performance at the PBT Unit at CUN Madrid in the initial 500 patients treated with PBT in the period from March 2020 to November 2022 registers a distribution of 131 (26%) pediatric patients, 63 (12%) head and neck cancer and central nervous system neoplasms and 123 (24%) re-irradiation indications. In November 2022, the activity reached a plateau in terms of patients under treatment and the impact of COVID pandemic became sporadic and controlled by minor medical actions. At present, the clinical data are consistent with an academic practice prospectively (NCT05151952). Research projects and scientific production was adapted to the pandemic evolution and its influence upon professional time availability. Seven research projects based in public funding were activated in this period and preliminary data on molecular imaging guided proton therapy in brain tumors and post-irradiation patterns of blood biomarkers are reported.
Conclusions: Hospital-based PBT in European academic institutions was impacted by COVID-19 pandemic, although clinical and research activities were developed and sustained. In the post-pandemic era, the benefits of online learning will shape the future of proton therapy education.