New Delhi: The COVID 19 pandemic has delayed identification and treatment of cancer, which if not diagnosed at an early stage may increase the death rates in the country for several years to come.

Dr Naresh Purohit - Advisior - National Cancer Control Programme said that the
present pandemic in the country has led to decreases and delays in identifying new cancers, as well as the delivery of treatment.

On eve of World Cancer Day, noted Epidemiologist Dr Purohit said that  it is critical that adults with a family history of cancer and others who may be experiencing symptoms do not delay their screenings for the fear of being exposed to or contracting coronavirus. Medical practices now have numerous strategies in place to protect the safety and health of patients, doctors, nurses and other staff members.

 National Coordinator for International Agency for Research On Cancer- Dr Purohit averred that thousands of people worldwide have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and its spread has impacted the healthcare system of nearly 186 countries.  Cancer care amid pandemic in India has also been significantly affected. With 95% of cancer care centres present in urban areas and 70% of the population still living in villages, travelling for treatment has been a major stumbling block during the lockdown. 

 He stated that  nearly 4.5 million Indians suffer from cancer and are in various stages of treatment and follow-ups, with an average of 1.5 million cases being added every year. 

As per WHO’s Globocan 2020, nearly 8,00,000 deaths in India are attributed to cancer.  

He added that cancer is the second largest cause of death in our country after cardiovascular diseases.

"Disruptions in cancer care due to the pandemic have led to delays in screening, diagnosis, treatment scheduling and appropriate therapy services, causing disease progression and poor prognosis. In fact, this has set our cancer targets back by a decade and nearly 1,00,000 cancer patients per month are expected to remain undiagnosed." he pointed.

Citing his recent  report titled "Cancer Agony Amid COVID"  in the Clinical Cancer  Information Journal , Dr Purohit said that the new consultations in cancer hospitals dropped by 50%, as cancer treatment was affected in terms of reduction in hospital admissions, decreased outpatient chemotherapy, decrease in major and minor cancer surgeries and decrease in radiotherapy administration. Cancer screening was either stopped completely or was running at less than 25% of the usual capacity at more than 70% of hospitals in India during these months.

He said that abrupt withdrawal of funding and interruption of cancer-related research also affected thousands of patients worldwide who were dependent on clinical trials for their treatment.

He underscored unlike the Covid-19 pandemic, the pandemic of non-communicable diseases like cancer is not so dramatically evident. The seemingly endless pandemic has already exposed our inefficient health care system. We need to now prepare ourselves to deal with the burden of chronic diseases. The health care system needs to evolve, and more focus needs to be laid on the primary health care system in our country. 

He said while capacity- building at the tertiary healthcare level is important, we need to also strengthen our community outreach programs and our primary health care centres.