Cancer care during the COVID -19 Pandemic

The number of COVID cases in India is fast approaching 33,000 with a mortality rate of around 3.1%. The emergency, ICU, Ventilators, pulmonology units of hospitals are busy and are preparing for the worst while hoping that somehow the number of cases start declining.

Most hospitals have suspended elective surgeries and OPDs. While, it is recommended that every individual should try to stay at home and avoid contact with others as far as possible, the situation is different for cancer patients.

For the patients who have been recently diagnosed with cancer or who are already on treatment, the situation is quite confusing as on one hand they have to continue their treatment while on the other they have to be cautious of contracting the highly contagious COVID. Hospitals are places where treatment is delivered and that cannot be done without being touched upon!

A visit to hospital may by itself lead to contracting infection in cancer patients in whom the immunity is already weak. To add to complexity, many cancer patients have other co-existing conditions like hypertension or diabetes.

So, should they suspend all treatment fearing the COVID or is it the cancer itself which they should be more worried about?

The answers are not easy, not even for the doctors as the situation is unprecedented and we all are gradually learning about this disease!

The uncertainty over lockdown extension and the future course of pandemic, further makes decision making hard on a possible short-term delay in cancer treatment.

So, what is the best approach in this situation?

All cancers are not the same, some are known to be aggressively spreading while some are relatively indolent.

However, in most cases cancer is a relative emergency and the outcome of its treatment is time sensitive. A delay in initiation or an interruption in cancer treatments can be detrimental for many patients. So, most cancer patients should continue treatment while taking utmost care to maintain social distancing and sanitization. The doctors and hospitals must follow all necessary precautions including testing, isolation and use of personal protection equipment while continuing cancer care during this pandemic.

In these tough times, disruptions in the cancer treatment should be avoided while balancing the higher health risk of COVID 19 in these immunocompromised individuals. The COVID-19 situation is entirely new for the doctors as well but still theyare better informed and will be able to better decide what is best in any individual patient’s case. So, it is strongly recommended that patients should discuss their case with oncologist to arrive at the best solution.

Dr. Abhishek Gulia
Senior Consultant
Department of Radiation Oncology
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