Experts from multiple Asian countries including India have called for those in need to ensure they access cancer care, highlighting the risks of delaying treatment.
The experts joined the AstraZeneca campaign “New normal, same cancer”, which aims to mitigate the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global response to cancer. “COVID-19 threatens to erase years of progress in our fight against cancer,” the drugmaker says on its website. It states that cancer diagnoses fell by approximately forty percent by the third quarter of 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted health systems in an unprecedented manner, especially in the treatment and diagnosis of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). “Many people who need treatment for diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes have not been receiving the health services and medicines they need since the COVID-19 pandemic began,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this year. “It’s vital that countries find innovative ways to ensure that essential services for NCDs continue, even as they fight COVID-19.”
Early diagnosis and continuity of cancer care is vital. “People are understandably more cautious about visiting hospitals and clinics at this time but avoidable delays in diagnosis or treatment can result in the cancer being harder to treat and worse outcomes for patients,” said Fong Pei-Chieh, Medical director of AstraZeneca for the Asia area.
For India, such warnings must be heard as the country’s burden grows. Recent decades saw the country witness a rise in the number of cancer cases. In 2018, reports said that the country’s cancer burden doubled in the previous 26 years. By 2040, the country is expected to be home to twenty lakh cases. According to India Against Cancer, 2.25 million are affected by cancer at present.
Despite the country’s considerable burden of cancer, the pandemic has disrupted individuals availing diagnostics and treatment – much to their detriment. According to a survey of oncosurgeons carried out in the country, 192,000 people are estimated to have experienced delays in a cancer diagnosis.
“Many health systems across Asia are implementing innovative models of care aimed at protecting patients from COVID-19 while still maintaining effective services for patients,” said Dr Mangesh Sheshrao Kamle, the therapy area lead for oncology at AstraZeneca India. “As the entire world embraces a ‘new normal’, the New Normal, Same Cancer campaign strongly urges cancer patients to access the right services with due precautions and without delay to give any treatment the best chances of success.”