Covid Hits Cancer Care, May Leave a Long-term Impact: Lancet
Now open: Certificate Course in Management of Covid-19 by Govt. Of Gujarat and PlexusMDKnow more...Now open: Certificate Course in Management of Covid-19 by Govt. Of Gujarat and PlexusMDKnow more...
Get authentic, real-time news that helps you fight COVID-19 better.
Install PlexusMD App for doctors. It's free.
The Covid-19 pandemic has considerably impacted cancer care in the country with a major decline in screening activities that has raised concerns about missed diagnoses leading to more patients needing oncology treatment in advanced stages and a jump in cancer-related deaths over the next few years.

Cancer screening had either completely stopped, or was functioning to less than 25% in 70% of centres. New patients registrations fell by 54%, outpatient clinic visits by 46%, hospital admissions by 36%, pathology by 38%, radiology by 43%, surgeries by 49 to 52%, chemotherapy by 37%, radiation by 23% and palliative care by 29%, shows a Lancet Oncology study.

The study underlines the long-term impact of cessation of cancer screening and delayed hospital visits on cancer stage migration and outcomes are likely to be substantial. “Our estimates of missed cancer diagnoses, delayed diagnoses, and subsequent burden on health-care services and the probable overall impact on cancer mortality indicate the possibility of a serious public health problem in the next five years,” it says.

The cohort study evaluated data from volumes of services in 41 cancer centres that are part of the National Cancer Grid of India over a three month period during the pandemic in 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. While the study primarily covers large hospitals with major footfall, the reduction in registered number of patients and OPD visits can be due to distributed cancer care with many patients avoiding tertiary care hospitals or traveling to metros for seeking care, instead going to smaller care centres near home.

However, the delayed screening and diagnosis is seen as a major concern by most experts. “What this data captures is very few screening programme that were underway during this time. For instance, the screening for Cervical Cancer is lifesaving and one of the most important screening programme in our country. So, if screening programme have been impacted, we will be able to see increase in higher stage diagnosis of Cervical in coming few years,” says Aju Mathew, leading oncologist at Kerala’s MOSC Medical College.

“The ability to provide cancer services during the pandemic has been affected in several ways. Many oncology centres have restructured their services to create Covid units. There have been reductions in staffing,”it says. Besides, access to health-care facilities has been restricted due to travel restrictions and patients have often been unwilling to visit hospitals for fears of infection.