Leading oncologists across Asia urged cancer patients to resume treatments and routine checkups that have been observed to significantly drop during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the Philippines, 85 percent of 92 oncologists surveyed saw a decrease in the number of cancer patients seen daily while 74 percent had patients who deteriorated or died for not being able to seek urgent care in the hospital. The survey also found 94 percent of scheduled chemotherapy treatments were delayed by at least two weeks, and up to more than eight weeks during the pandemic.
The Philippine General Hospital averaged 150 to 200 cancer patients daily before the pandemic. At the height of the lockdown, patient visits to the cancer clinic went down by 90 percent to only 20 patients daily.
“Patients with cancer are faced with the double-edged sword of increased risk of severe Covid-19 infection against the consequences of delaying effective anticancer therapies,” internist and oncologist, Dr. Frederic Ting, said during an online press briefing last week.
Doctors took pains to stress that cancer patients should not fear going back to hospitals as protocols have already been put in place for non-Covid-19 cases to be screened separately.
Hospitals are now more prepared with safety protocols to handle cancer patients but consultations are still few compared to before the Covid-19 lockdowns.
During the peak of the lockdowns, access to hospitals was severely limited by the lack of transportation and outpatient sections were being used as a triage area to screen suspected Covid-19 cases. The situation, in terms of access to transportation and the safety protocols in hospitals have improved but the impression among the pubic, even those who have serious medical conditions that need specialist attention, like cancer, is that it is safer to stay home.
People would rather take the risk of getting seriously ill or even dying without seeing a doctor because of that fear.
Nine months have passed since the lockdowns began and although government still seems lost, most hospitals and health facilities have already adapted to the situation, by now. As long as the proper precautions are followed, patients should be able to consult with their doctors and avail of timely treatment, even as the pandemic continues to rage in this country.
Let us continue to be highly aware of the dangers being posed by Covid-19 but, at the same time, let us also remember that there are other serious and potentially deadly but treatable diseases that also demand our attention. After all, avoiding Covid-19 will be for naught if we allow other diseases, such as cancer, to do their damage unchecked.*