While COVID-19 has disrupted everyone’s life, cancer patients have been severely impacted. Nearly 17 million people in the U.S. are living with cancer and the coronavirus has affected their care and treatment as well as their personal health. Patients having radiation or chemotherapy have lowered immune systems and must avoid viral infections so that they aren’t battling two potentially deadly diseases.
According to TIME, studies of cancer patients who become infected with the coronavirus suggest that the death rate of cancer patients from the disease is up to 28% higher than those without cancer. Experts also fear that the pandemic could impact cancer death rates in the future as many people skip or delay their treatments and others are too terrified to see their doctors for routine tests for early detection.
Cancer centers across the country have modified treatment options to protect both patients and staff from infection. In many centers, that means visitors are not allowed to accompany patients and that any care that could be provided virtually has been moved to video or telemedicine.
“These practices helped to lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 and sent signals to our patients that we were doing the best we can to protect their health,” said Dr. Leslie Busby, a partner at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, according to TIME.
According to an article published in Science, the author, Dr. Norman Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), said “fear of contracting the coronavirus in health care settings has dissuaded people from screening, diagnosis and treatment for non-COVID-19 diseases. The consequences for cancer outcomes, for example, could be substantial.”
The author said recent modeling by NCI on the effect of COVID-19 on cancer screening and treatment for colorectal and breast cancer alone, showed that the disease may account for almost 10,000 extra deaths in the next decade. COVID-19 has disrupted cancer research, shutting down laboratories and slowing down clinical trials.
“Ignoring life-threatening non-COVID-19 conditions such as cancer for too long may turn one public health crisis into many others,” Sharpless said in Science. “Let’s avoid that outcome.”
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