Important factors to be considered for Cancer Care in COVID-19 Pandemic
Our country and the whole world has come to a standstill, and understandably so.
It’s a ‘Pandemic’.
We are suddenly living in a world that seems to know only one illness, COVID-19, but it’s just not so. The pandemics usually come in waves, devastate a whole lot of lives and then become stable.
If we believe the experts, this too shall become a part of our lives over time, just like other common cold and flu have become. Not to downstage the relevance of the COVID pandemic in current times, but there are many other diseases that have been wreaking havoc on human life, albeit more silently than this, one of those being the existing ‘Epidemic’, that is CANCER.
As per an estimate, during the period of lockdown last year, cancer care did suffer to a huge extent. Life-saving cancer surgeries and treatments could not be accessed by ~70% of cancer patients and chemotherapy and follow-ups were postponed. Overall cancer care services reduced by ~50% in April and May 2020.
This made many diseases advance in stage, lose the window of possible curative intent treatment and become palliative patients living the rest of their lives with cancer.
To top it all off, there also remains the fact that cancer patients are more vulnerable to COVID 19 infections and its complications, making cancer care delivery more challenging.
All this creates fear and a situation of panic among cancer patients and their caregivers. It’s not just the fear for safety at this time but also transportation issues, medicines issues, hospital availability and financial issues during this period of worldwide instability.
But cancer is not a stable disease as well. It remains, of extreme importance, that the patient reaches the doctor at an early stage for them to have a possible cure.
Telemedicine, today has come to the aid of the patients to much extent, but those who require treatment at the hospital have still suffered and continue to do so in the second pandemic wave again.
The recommendations for taking precautions are the same for cancer patients as other people i.e, mask, hand hygiene, social distancing and staying at home unless necessary. But these need to be followed in a much stricter way for cancer patients due to their increased susceptibility.
COVID testing is necessary before any surgery and is also recommended before starting any chemotherapy. If the patient is detected positive for COVID-19 infection in the testing, COVID treatment takes precedence and cancer treatment needs to be delayed for a minimum of 14 days time and can be resumed as per treating physicians discretion after that.
Cancer patients who have followed up visits and tests planned, can consult their respective doctors telephonically and do tests or postpone as advised by their doctor.
COVID 19 vaccination is compulsory and necessary for all cancer patients whether on active treatment currently or those who have finished treatment and are survivors. The timings of taking the vaccine should be discussed with the oncologist by the patients who are on active chemotherapy or any other immunosuppressive therapy. Both available vaccines can be taken by cancer patients.
There are guidelines put in place by government and non-government cancer care bodies regarding such vaccine-related issues. Women who are planned for routine mammography are advised to do so before vaccination or to wait for at least 6 weeks after they have taken the vaccine, due to the possibility of swollen lymph nodes on the side where the vaccine was given, which can lead to unnecessary testing and panic.
We need to work together to deliver proper care to cancer patients during this troubled time. It should not happen that we kept looking at the front of the pandemic and got hit by cancer from behind. Safety precautions, awareness and doctor’s guidance is the key to beating cancer and COVID simultaneously.
Dr Sameeksha Dubey