World Cancer Day 2021: The impact of covid-19 in cancer
Cancer is a disease that causes great physical and mental suffering, even death, and its management always requires great dedication in terms of time, investment, means, and good organization. Throughout the disease many unforeseen and delicate situations arise that require great individual adaptation to overcome them.
But, this year a new challenge has been added to this disease, the covid-19. We could not imagine that the pandemic caused by covid-19 would affect cancer patients so much: fundamental tests and treatments are being de-programmed (radiology, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery), which will then be reprogrammed when possible. All these changes are causing a significant delay, both in diagnosis and in treatments.
Cancer in the days of COVID-19
The publications tell us that around 20% fewer patients are being diagnosed with cancer than in previous years. This should keep us alert to the dysfunction that comes with the health crisis. The deprogramming of tests and treatments will require a great effort, and the collaboration of all the actors, including the users.
The first wave of the covid-19 pandemic meant a decrease in both the number of new diagnoses and the initiation of new treatments, and there is still no data on the second. The short, medium, and long-term consequences seem inevitable, despite the best efforts of professionals in the field of cancer.
According to the latest data, cancer is the leading cause of death in our country with a rate of 27% and 38% in those over 65 years of age. In Greece, it is estimated that there are 67,000 new cases of cancer and about 32,000 deaths annually. The incidence of cancer worldwide has been steadily increasing in recent years. In 2012, 14.1 million new cases were recorded worldwide, in 2018 18 million, while in 2025 it is estimated that they will reach 19.3 million and cancer deaths worldwide are approaching 10 million annually.
During the initial phase of the pandemic, it is estimated that more than 2.5 million cancer surgeries worldwide were delayed due to system failure due to a large number of COVID-19 patients, the lack of intensive care units, and the risk of transmission inside the hospital.
Cancer in the first wave of the pandemic
In a worldwide study involving 356 Oncology Hospitals on all 5 continents, since the end of the first wave of the pandemic, it was found that the majority of Hospitals (88.2%) reduced the usual level of care for cancer patients and especially in a percentage more than half of them (55.34%) as a preventive measure to deal with the pandemic. Other reasons for these cuts included system overload (19.94%), lack of adequate personal protective equipment (19.10%), lack of health personnel (17.98%), and limited access to medicines (9, 83%). Also, in about half of the Hospitals, the loss of one or more cycles of chemotherapy was reported in more than 10% of the patients. Study participants reported that 1/3 of oncology patients were likely to be harmed by the change or discontinuation of oncological care and another 39% by a lack of non-cancer-related care, with some hospitals estimating that up to 80% of their patients were exposed to potential damage.
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