Dear Doctor/ Dr Rajesh Mistry, director, oncology, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani hospital, Mumbai
Owing to Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown, the number of patients coming to hospitals had drastically reduced because of the fear of catching hospital-acquired infections. It was the same with cancer patients. So, work fell down to 30 per cent and less. But the time that was lost in the initial period of the lockdown made the situation worse for many cancer patients as the treatment got delayed.
Though cancer treatments do not fall under the emergency category, the treatment modalities are always planned as in cancer there is an uncontrolled growth of cells in the body, leading to the formation of tumours. And, regular check-ups are essential. One cannot wait indefinitely to start treatment because the disease keeps progressing. So, there were delays in chemotherapies and surgeries. But we are no longer deferring cancer-related surgeries because of Covid-19.
One needs to live with Covid-19 and not postpone cancer treatments anymore. Also, as doctors, we can assure that all necessary steps are taken at the hospital to make sure patients feel safe, comfortable and do not acquire infections. We also have a compulsory Covid-19 test for patients on admission.
Covid-19 and cancer
Covid-19 does not increase the risk of cancer. But once a cancer patient—who has either received chemotherapy or radiation or has undergone a surgery—tests positive for Covid-19, there are more complications. If a patient awaiting surgery tests positive, the procedure gets delayed by at least three weeks. And, that delay could make their condition worse. So, they need to take extra care and precautions because their chances of acquiring infections from the environment are higher.
Cancer patients cannot go easy on wearing masks. They must wear them at all times when outside and strictly over the nose. They must avoid crowded places. Regular handwashing, too, is extremely important. In case of cancer patients, any laxation in rules can have a major impact.
Indians and cancer
In India, the most common cancers in women are breast cancer and cancer of the ovaries and endometrium. In men, it is cancer of the head, neck and lungs. Heredity cancers are very rare—only about 5 to 10 per cent of the total cancer cases. Given that cancers do not reveal themselves early on, it is very difficult to diagnose them in the early stages. But general symptoms of cancer include a change in voice, persistent cough, blood in sputum and urine and intermenstrual bleeding. By the time a person shows these symptoms, the cancer may be in an advanced stage. So, one has to rely on medical investigations for early diagnosis.
—As told to Pooja Biraia Jaiswal