Coping with COVID-19 – An Interview with Oncologist, Professor John Zalcberg

04 Apr 2020 by Krystal Barter
Coping with COVID-19 – An Interview with Oncologist, Professor John Zalcberg

Firstly, it’s important to note COVID-19 is something none of us could have prepared for. We never saw this coming and as a result, we are learning how to adapt and deal with the situation every day.

It is also important for people to know that the health system, including doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients are making an incredible effort to rapidly adjust to this evolving situation.

Believe it or not, there are some positives that will come out of this pandemic, as we find new ways to not only maintain existing standards of care but exceed them.


We have found patient follow up has become easier, as the need and desire for telehealth appointments grows.  

With patients encouraged not to return to the hospital for follow-up appointments, there has been no compromise on this service with telehealth. In fact, many patients are more receptible to having their appointment online or over the phone, meaning we’re maintaining contact for longer.

Clinical trials remain extremely important, not only in the oncology community, but in the wider health industry, including COVID-19 trials which are already underway.

We’ve been able to take on new approaches to clinical trials not previously used, such as treating patients closer to home and utilising telehealth so that more participants can join clinical trials remotely.

Implementing these changes now will make a difference to the future of medicine here and overseas.

Clinical Trials


The evidence isn’t yet clear that if people have cancer, they are at a higher risk of complications from COVID-19.

As with any cancer diagnosis, I would encourage patients to consider their own, individual condition. Different types of cancer present different treatment scenarios and options, so it’s important to remain well informed.

It’s a very unique situation for everyone. In some cases where we initially thought five weeks of radiation was most suitable, we may have different options with shorter treatment times. For patients who require chemotherapy, they could be suited to ‘hospital in the home’ as well.  

I would encourage patients to keep discussing your situation and options with your clinical team, and ask the question ‘what approach is most applicable to me right now?’.


These are the sources we trust, but in addition, I would urge all patients to continue speaking with their clinical teams, as the information and advice is rapidly changing. Credible sources I recommend include:

Cancer Australia https://canceraustralia.gov.au/

Monash Partners Comprehensive Cancer Centre https://www.monashpartnersccc.org/

Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre https://www.viccompcancerctr.org/



Patients with cancer share this worldwide COVID-19 problem with all of us. The hope is that people appreciate and understand that we are all vulnerable during this time, some of us more than others.

With all this disruption, the healthcare professional community are aiming to operate at least as good as we were previously, if not better. Patients do not need to feel concerned that the standard of care and support will drop when it comes to managing their condition.

We all lived as a community knowing the flu was around. At the moment, we know that COVID-19 is worse than the flu, but I have no doubt we will find the treatments that change not only how many people get this virus, but how we treat it, regardless of who or where you may be.

As we’ve seen around the world, communities come together during this time of need. The Australian community is pulling together, and the clinical community too. If people are hurting, anxious or worried, talk to your clinical team. Together we’ll help each other.


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