New survey indicates need to address cancer-related infections

Amgen and CDC have partnered on a 3-year initiative to help improve rising incidence of infection among cancer patients.

A recently released Amgen-supported survey conducted by Harris Interactive, Inc., shows that a majority of US oncologists and infectious disease specialists are concerned about the rising incidence of infection among cancer patients. The data indicate another problematic issue: an increase in antibiotic-resistance among immunosuppressed cancer patients.

Responding to this growing clinical problem,Amgen partnered with the Centers for Disease Control Foundation and CDC to launch a 3-year initiative to help improve infection control in the cancer patient population. The survey included interviews with 430 cancer patients undergoing chemo (currently or within past 12 months), 150 oncologists, and 151 infectious disease (ID)specialists.

The most commonly reported infection by both groups of doctors was methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA); 96% of ID specialists and 79% of oncologists found a marked increase in MRSA in cancer patients over the past 5 years.

Interestingly, over half of ID specialists said that antibiotics are effective at minimizing the risk of infection while more than half of the surveyed oncologists said that antibiotics are overused. An alarming amount of cancer patients were unaware that they were at higher risk for infection and about 25% believed interrupting treatment, or lowering chemo dosage due to infection was not a serious issue.

The bottom line: these data showed that more than 60% of the patients had one or more infections and almost half of the patients were hospitalized (average 9 days)  and had their treatment disrupted. This is a serious clinical issue in the oncology community that heretofore has been under-served.

The Amgen-CDC program will include, among other things, the development of evidence-based curricula for health-care providers and an interactive on-line education tool for patients on what to expect from treatment and how to prevent and manage infection during their therapy.

Infections not only compromise the treatment and health status of our cancer patients, they also greatly add to the overall costs of medical care. This initiative provides a win-win approach to a deadly-serious but largely preventable co-morbidity in cancer care.