Von Dr. Suresh Advani
Cancer care services have been severely impacted and disrupted during the global COVID19 pandemic. According to The Lancet Oncology, between March 1 and May 31, 2020, the number of new patients registered fell from 112,270 to 51,760 (54% less), the number of patients who had follow-up examinations from 634,745 to 340,984 (46% less) and hospital admissions fell from 88,801 to 56,885 (down 36%).
Cancer screening stopped completely in more than 70% of centers during these months or was functioning at less than 25% of usual capacity. Reductions in the provision of oncology services were higher for centers in Tier 1 cities (larger cities) than for Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities (smaller cities).
The earlier cancer is detected, the better the chances of successful treatment. Unfortunately, even during the pandemic, cancer does not rest. A delay in screening can make cancer deadly and more difficult to treat once it is detected. If a patient has received a referral for cancer screening or thinks they have symptoms that could indicate the disease, they must not delay their treatment and start it as soon as possible. If you are in an internet-connected area, there are many oncologists you can contact for a diagnosis and treatment plans.
If a patient is undergoing chemotherapy, they are likely to be at risk of contracting COVID19 because chemotherapy can weaken their immune system. For the same reason, the infection can be more serious for them. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that they be vaccinated as a priority. COVID19 vaccines and boosters are extremely helpful in preventing infection, but it is good to consult your oncologist before taking the vaccine.
Here are some tips patients can consider.
Ask your doctor about additional necessary medications to have on hand if you need to stay home for an extended period of time.
Make sure you have over-the-counter medicines to treat fever and other symptoms if you get sick; have the recipe handy.
Call your doctor’s office a few days before an appointment to make sure you can still reach the doctor.
Share your healthcare provider’s contact information with your family members and caregivers so they can seek help if you become ill.
If your cancer is responding well to treatment, talk to your doctor about rescheduling/delaying your chemotherapy regimen if you are unable to attend the cancer treatment center in person. Consider postponing treatments only after consulting your oncologist
If a patient with cancer tests positive for COVID19, the earliest they should do is contact their oncologist to discuss the further course of their cancer treatment. Some cancer treatment centers may require a negative COVID19 test 24 hours before a chemotherapy session or before restarting another cancer treatment. Some treatments, especially those that don’t affect the immune system, may be able to continue, especially if people have only minor or mild symptoms.
In summary, as cancer treatment returns to optimal levels, a mask should be worn in at least most areas when you come into the infusion clinic or cancer treatment center. Also, remember good hand hygiene by using hand sanitizer or washing your hands before and after visits. Remember to keep in touch with your caregiver at all times and continue your treatment. It’s always good to ask for help before it’s too late.
(The author is Senior Consultant, Oncology, SL Raheja Hospital, Mahim-A Fortis Associate, Mumbai. The article is for informational purposes only. Please consult health professionals and healthcare professionals before initiating any therapy or medication. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)