The treatment and screening of many cancer patients was delayed because of the Covid pandemic, said doctors.
The disease could have got to an advanced stage because of the delay in treatment, which could have been prevented had it not been for the pandemic, they said.
Many patients were reluctant to come to hospitals because of the fear of Covid and that their compromised immunity could trigger a severe infection, putting them at “high risk”, said oncologists.
With the surge in Covid cases in the pandemic, other routine services at various hospitals were reduced, further delaying diagnosis, oncologists said.
“A lot of the cancer diagnosis happens in other departments like ENT, gastroenterology, chest medicine and with these services disrupted at hospitals because of Covid, diagnosis was delayed,” said Jyotirup Goswami, senior oncologist at Saroj Gupta Cancer Center & Research Institute in Thakurpukur.
Goswami was the moderator at a session titled ‘Hard Talk: How has Covid changed oncology practice?’ at the annual conference of the Association of Radiation Oncologists of India, West Bengal chapter.
Over 200 oncologists attended the conference over two days at the Thakurpukur hospital.
“Fear of contracting Covid was one reason. There was a reluctance to visit hospitals. The poor connectivity in the initial phase of Covid delayed access to treatment,” said Goswami.
Arnab Gupta, director of the institute, said that in the first six months, because of transport problems in the Covid-induced lockdown, patients from the suburbs could not reach hospitals. “Without treatment, the cancer became more advanced,” he said.
“For cancer patients, immunity is already compromised. With radiotherapy and chemotherapy, their WBC (white blood cells) count drops and if they get Covid, especially those with blood cancer, lung cancer and intestinal cancer, they are at high risk and can get a more severe disease,” said Gupta.
The association is an umbrella organisation of oncologists in Bengal. The current membership in the state is 440. Delegates from across the country attended the conference .
On the first day of the conference, the Thakurpukur hospital launched the vital beam linear accelerator and introduced advanced radiotherapy techniques for better treatment procedures.
Modern radiotherapy techniques optimise cancer outcomes by reducing side effects, enabling superior tumor control and proving disease control solutions.
“The vital beam linear accelerator will help in more precise radiotherapy. It has a camera fitted to it, which will administer the dose on the target (tumour) and spare the normal tissues as far as possible,” said Gupta.
“There will be minimal side effects and it can help address benign tumors as well.”