NCCN Panel: Defer Nonurgent Skin Cancer Care During Pandemic

M. Alexander Otto

April 09, 2020

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, defer therapeutic lymphadenectomy for stage III melanoma and opt instead for treatment with checkpoint or BRAF/MEK inhibitors, except when metastatic nodes are threatening vital structures or neoadjuvant therapy is not possible or has already failed, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network said in a new document about managing melanoma during the pandemic.

"The NCCN Melanoma Panel does not consider neoadjuvant therapy as a superior option to surgery followed by systemic adjuvant therapy for stage III melanoma, but available data suggest this is a reasonable resource-conserving option during the COVID-19 outbreak," according to the panel. Surgery should be performed 8-9 weeks after initiation, said the group, an alliance of physicians from 30 U.S. cancer centers.

Echoing pandemic advice from other medical fields, the group's melanoma recommendations focused on deferring nonurgent care until after the pandemic passes, and in the meantime limiting patient contact with the medical system and preserving hospital resources by, for instance, using telemedicine and opting for treatment regimens that require fewer trips to the clinic.

In a separate document on nonmelanoma skin cancer (NMSC), the group said that, with the exception of Merkel cell carcinoma, excisions for NMSC — including basal and squamous cell carcinoma, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, and rare tumors — should also generally be postponed during the pandemic.

The exception is if there is a risk of metastases within 3 months, but "such estimations of risks...should be weighed against risks of the patient contracting COVID-19 infection or asymptomatically transmitting COVID-19 to health care workers," the panel said.

Along the same lines, adjuvant therapy after surgical clearance of localized NMSC "should generally not be undertaken given the multiple visits required," except for more extensive disease.

For primary cutaneous melanoma, "most time-to-treat studies show no adverse patient outcomes following a 90-day treatment delay, even for thicker [cutaneous melanoma]," the group said, so it recommended delaying wide excisions for melanoma in situ, lesions no thicker than 1 mm (T1) so long as the biopsy removed most of the lesion, and invasive melanomas of any depth if the biopsy had clear margins or only peripheral transection of the in situ component. They said sentinel lymph node biopsy can also be delayed for up to 3 months.

Resections for metastatic stage III-IV disease should also be put on hold unless the patient is symptomatic; systemic treatments should instead be continued. However, "given hospital-intensive resources, the use of talimogene laherparepvec for cutaneous/nodal/in-transit metastasis should be cautiously considered and, if possible, deferred until the COVID-19 crisis abates. A single dose of palliative radiation therapy may be useful for larger/symptomatic metastasis, as appropriate," the group said.

If resection is still a go, the group noted that adjuvant therapy "has not been shown to improve melanoma-specific survival and should be deferred during the COVID-19 pandemic for patients with [a less than] 50% chance of disease relapse." Dabrafenib/trametinib is the evidence-based choice if adjuvant treatment is opted for, but "alternative BRAF/MEK inhibitor regimens (encorafenib/binimetinib or vemurafenib/cobimetinib) may be substituted if drug supply is limited" by the pandemic, the group said.

For stage IV melanoma, "single-agent anti-PD-1 [programmed cell death 1] is recommended over combination ipilimumab/nivolumab at present" because there's less inflammation and possible exacerbation of COVID-19, less need for steroids to counter adverse events, and less need for follow up to check for toxicities.

The group said evidence supports that 400 mg pembrolizumab administered intravenously every 6 weeks would likely be as effective as 200 mg intravenously every 3 weeks and would help keep people out of the hospital.

However, for stage IV melanoma with brain metastasis, there's a strong rate of response to ipilimumab/nivolumab, so it may still be an option. In that case, "a regimen of ipilimumab 1 mg/kg and nivolumab 3 mg/kg every 3 weeks for four infusions, with subsequent consideration for nivolumab monotherapy, is associated with lower rates of immune-mediated toxicity," compared with standard dosing.

Regarding potential drug shortages, the group noted that encorafenib/binimetinib or vemurafenib/cobimetinib combinations can be substituted for dabrafenib/trametinib for adjuvant therapy, and single-agent BRAF inhibitors can be used in the event of MEK inhibitor shortages.

In hospice, the group said oral temozolomide is the preferred option for palliative chemotherapy since it would limit resource utilization and contact with the medical system.

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