The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted everything. The education system changed, our healthcare system collapsed during the peak of the second wave, the nature of businesses transformed. After a lethal and emotionally draining second wave, things were starting to go back to normal before the Omicron scare started.
Now, the governments are buckling up again to prepare for the Omicron variant. However, the effects of coronavirus are not limited to when one gets the infection or when the country is grappling with a severe wave. It has many long-term detrimental consequences, and one of them is excess cancer deaths.
Excess Cancer Deaths In India Due To COVID
The World Health Organization (WHO) conducted a study wherein it found that in 42% of the countries, cancer management and services deteriorated during the pandemic. The more widespread the pandemic, more is the deterioration.
Now a new study by Lancet Oncology (as a part of the National Cancer Grid of India) revealed that India could witness extra 98,650- 1,31,500 cancer deaths in the next five years owing to the pandemic.
Cancer screenings and cancer care were reduced by a significant percentage when COVID was at its peak. 83,600 to 1,11,500 cancer diagnoses were missed due to which the disease will worsen in the next two years.
During March-May 2020, around 69% of healthcare institutions halted cancer screening services compared to the same period in 2019. The research related to cancer declined by 69% and so did educational activities by 56%.
New patient registrations fell by 56%. Total outpatient visits and surgeries reduced by 60%. The study also found that 69% of these centers reported a decline in their income during the pandemic months.
This study was conducted at 41 cancer centers of India, all of which are part of the National Cancer Grid of India.
Cancer death in India is one of the leading causes of death by non-communicable diseases. 8% of adult deaths are attributed to cancer. More than 850,000 people die due to cancer whereas more than 1.3 million people are diagnosed with it every year.
In India, the mortality to incidence ratio for cancer is higher as compared to the developed countries. This is attributed to inadequate R&D dedicated to cancer.
The pandemic only worsened cancer care management in the country. You may ask how does it matter if the cancer screening could not happen for a couple of months. It matters because every month’s delay in detecting cancer or accessing its treatment increases the risk of death by 6-8%.
It was not just the access to services that were affected. The medical training given to young graduates and aspiring doctors was also severely affected.
The cancer care fund was diverted to COVID-19 management. Hospitals and test centers were transformed into COVID-19 care facilities. While it was all extremely important at that time, it can have pernicious effects on cancer patients.
Is It Just India?
No. This trend was similar for other countries grappling with COVID as well. The US, for example, witnessed a 46.4% decline in the number of newly diagnosed cancer cases (breast, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, lung, and pancreatic cancer).
In the UK, the number of referrals for suspected cancer fell by over 80% during peak COVID months. New Zealand witnessed a sharp decline of 40% in new cancer registrations during March-April 2020.
None of it was because cancer somehow magically disappeared. It was because all the attention was shifted towards the more urgent matter at hand, i.e. COVID-19.
As per the National Cancer Institute of the USA (NCI), the USA might register 10,000 excess deaths in the next 10 years due to breast and colon cancer alone.
The scary part is that it is not something limited to cancer itself. The trend is similar for a number of other diseases like heart ailments and other such non-communicable diseases.
COVID-19 is scary, and it requires our immediate attention. But it should not be at the expense of other diseases. Ignoring cancer for too long is not beneficial for anyone and we should be alert before it becomes a menace of its own.
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This post is tagged under: cancer, lethal, fatal, deadly disease, chemotherapy, National Cancer Grid of India, lancet oncology, radiotherapy, cancer care, cancer treatment, india cancer deaths, USA, covid 19, pandemic, coronavirus, detrimental effects of coronavirus, how covid ruined lives, cancer patients, healthcare facilities