‘According to WHO, cancer now is the second leading cause of death’.
New Delhi/Mumbai: At a time when the world is fighting the pandemic, recent statistics show that the number of people diagnosed with cancer globally last year reached 19.3 million, with the number of people dying increasing to 10 million. On Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a report that the pandemic has badly affected efforts to control cancer. According to WHO, cancer now is the second leading cause of death, with 70% of deaths occurring in low-and-middle-income countries.
WHO has reported that breast cancer has replaced lung cancer as the world’s most commonly occurring cancer. It warns the number of new cancer cases is expected to grow significantly reaching 30 million new cases by 2040. It is noteworthy that the impact of Covid has been disastrous for many, including cancer patients, as health experts stressed that chemotherapy treatment decreases the immunity level of the patient by lowering white blood cells (WBC) count, which makes the patient more susceptible to infection from Covid-19.
Dr Niti Raizada, Director-Medical Oncology and Hemato-Oncology-Fortis Cancer Institute, told The Sunday Guardian: “Covid-19 infection has had an impact on cancer treatments throughout the globe. Bone marrow transplant recipients are highly predisposed to infectious complications, including Covid-19 infection. During the early stages of the pandemic, there was considerable apprehension about the risk to those patients who had undergone transplant procedures. Hence, till we learned more about the pandemic, most centers deferred transplants for elective indications, especially benign disorders. As the pandemic unfolded, studies have shown that certain safeguards patients can go through the peri-transplant period without significant risk.”
A study presented at the European Society for Medical Oncology Virtual Congress 2020 analysed 3,600 patients from 122 institutions and found that 30-day mortality was highest among the cancer patients treated one to three months prior to the Covid-19 diagnosis and was highest for those treated with a chemotherapy/immunotherapy combination.
“Primarily patients whose transplants can be delayed for a few months especially for genetic conditions should wait till the pandemic subsides. This needs to be discussed with the treating doctors. Healthcare staff in the transplant unit should be tested for Covid regularly to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
Bone marrow transplant recipients should follow social distancing guidelines and use of personal protective equipment very strictly. With these measures, we have managed to perform 25 transplants during the peak months of the pandemic from May to December with no Patient getting Covid infection in this period. Covid vaccine is not recommended for immunocompromised patients at present and should be taken only with the advice of the transplant physician,” Dr Raizada said.\
According to reports, patients with active haematologic or lung malignancies, peri-Covid-19 lymphopenia, or baseline neutropenia may have the worst Covid-19 outcomes. Several doctors and experts also stressed that cancer patients should follow all the Covid-19 protocols and should never leave the treatment in between as it may render the disease more dangerous.