Massey implements COVID testing for cancer patients undergoing treatment
VCU Massey Cancer Center is implementing COVID-19 testing for patients on active cancer treatment, especially those receiving chemotherapy, selected patients receiving radiation therapy and before surgery. The testing, which involves a nasal swab, is performed 48 hours prior to their treatment and is available at multiple VCU Health locations throughout the region. Testing can be paired with lab draw or provider visits, and results post as soon as they are available, usually within 48 hours. Drive-thru sites are available for convenience and are listed below.
Cancer patients are at an increased risk of getting COVID-19 because they have compromised immune systems, and cancer treatment can be harmful for patients with a COVID-19 infection. Therefore, it is critical to take extra precautions, including universal COVID-19 testing, to protect the safety and health of each cancer patient, other patients in our clinics and Massey’s care providers.
“There are significant concerns with treating cancer patients who are COVID-positive. If we give chemotherapy to a patient who doesn’t know they have COVID-19, they could get very sick,” said Khalid Matin, M.D., vice chair of clinical affairs in the Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care and medical director of community oncology and clinical research affiliations at Massey. “We also want to prevent the spread of COVID-19 from someone who might not know they have it to our other patients and staff who are in the clinic at the same time.”
Every patient receiving a chemotherapy infusion in one of Massey’s clinics will need to have a baseline COVID test to establish their infection status. Following the baseline test, it is recommended that testing be conducted every 3-4 weeks based on a patient’s treatment cycle. Patients on oral chemotherapies may also undergo COVID testing if felt necessary by their provider. For inpatient chemotherapy treatment, it is required that patients undergo COVID testing 48 hours prior to admission. If a patient is COVID-19 positive, they will need to determine with their provider if the benefits of chemotherapy will still outweigh the risks of COVID-19.
Following a COVID-19-related hiatus, Massey has resumed elective surgeries and procedures that had been postponed. It is expected that all oncology surgeries will safely return to full capacity over the next few weeks. All patients undergoing surgery at VCU Health, including cancer patients, are required to have COVID testing as part of their preoperative workup.
Radiation oncology services, including external beam radiation and brachytherapy, remain fully operational at all Massey locations, with the addition of onsite COVID-19 testing prior to starting treatment for select patients and as recommended by their provider.
There are currently four on-site, drive-thru testing locations available for Massey patients:
- Downtown Richmond (directions) – located on the top level of the visitors parking deck at 550 North 12th Street (Monday-Wednesday, Friday-Saturday, 7 am – 3:30 pm; closed Thursday)
- Stony Point (directions) – located at 9105 Stony Point Parkway (Monday-Wednesday and Friday, 7 am – 3:30 pm; closed Thursday)
- South Hill – located at 412 Durant Street (Monday-Tuesday, Thursday-Friday, 8:30 am - 4 pm and Wednesday, 8:30 am – 12 pm)
- Fredericksburg (by appointment only) – located at 10528 Spotsylvania Avenue (Monday-Friday, 8 am – 4:30 pm)
Additionally, there are two sites where patients can be tested inside a VCU Health clinic:
- Short Pump – located at VCU Health’s PACE clinic at 11958 West Broad Street (Monday-Friday, 7 am - 5 pm)
- Colonial Heights (directions) – located at VCU Health Orthopedics at 131 Jennick Drive (Monday-Wednesday and Friday, 7:30 am - 4 pm; closed Thursday)
Any patients who have transportation issues or other conflicts that reduce their ease or ability to be tested at one of the six VCU Health sites should consult with their primary oncology team to identify a more convenient testing location outside of VCU Health. Visit vcuhealth.org/locations for directions to all VCU Health testing sites.
“Testing is necessary to ensure the safety of our patients and staff, but we will work with each of our patients to determine the best place for them to receive a test,” Matin said. “For the majority of our patients, testing will be at one of the six VCU Health testing sites. However, we understand that some patients commute a long distance to receive their cancer treatment or have transportation issues, so their care team will work with those patients to reduce that burden.”
What to expect when getting tested for COVID-19
No specific preparation is needed. If visiting one of VCU Health’s drive-thru testing sites, the patient will stay in their car to be tested. The patient will be asked to tilt their head back and both sides of the nose will be swabbed. Some discomfort may be experienced including gagging, coughing or feeling the urge to sneeze during swabbing. The procedure itself will take about one minute. The caregiver administering the test will wear a clean set of gloves and protective gear to stay safe. Results will be posted in the My VCU Health patient portal as soon as they are available, usually within 48 hours. If the result is positive, the patient will receive a phone call, and their doctor will recommend whether it will be best to delay the upcoming surgery, procedure or test, or to continue as planned. VCU Health will charge the patient’s insurance for this test, and depending on the insurance provider, the patient may receive a bill for their portion of cost. Every payor is different, so contact the insurance provider with any questions.
Patients who have any questions or concerns about COVID testing should contact their primary oncology nurse at Massey.
For more updates to outpatient cancer care practices related to COVID-19 at Massey, click here.