Cancer treatment shouldn’t be delayed due to COVID fear, says oncologist

‘Pandemic scare is making many patients postpone their visit to hospitals’

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected cancer care over the past two years. Cancer usually presents as a painless lump or ulcer. The absence of pain and the pandemic scare are making many patients postpone their visit to hospitals, says Suman Das, senior consultant radiation oncologist, Apollo Cancer Centre.

This is resulting in many patients getting diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease. The lack of pain in the early stages also makes patients think that there was no need to rush to the hospital for diagnosis.

The treatment of cancer involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Usually the overall treatment ranges over a period of a few weeks to a few months, depending on the type of cancer. During this period, if the patient gets infected with COVID-19 there is a possibility of interruption of treatment.

Citing an example, Dr. Suman Das said a breast cancer patient was being treated with chemotherapy and after receiving the third dose of chemotherapy, she got infected with COVID-19 and needed hospitalisation and continuation of treatment for breast cancer got affected. Her further chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy got discontinued and this affects the outcome of cancer treatment. Cancer hospitals are usually available in tier-1 or tier-2 cities. The patient has to travel and to stay at a place near the hospital during the course of the treatment. During the peak COVID time, with lots of restrictions, patients were unable to travel. The patients found it difficult to get accommodation, near the hospitals, as the fear of the pandemic prevented owners from giving their houses on rent.

Dr. Suman Das says that cancer patients need not worry about taking COVID vaccine. They should, however, consult their oncologist before taking the vaccine, if they are on active treatment like chemotherapy and radiotherapy. There is no need to be afraid of COVID as simple precautions could help in preventing the virus. On the other hand, one should not delay cancer treatment. There are guidelines and triages to help treatment of cancer, especially, if the patient gets infected during the course of treatment.

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