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Cancer to kill more as Covid-19 forces doctors to delay therapy

Uganda Cancer Institute

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The number of cancer related deaths is expected to rise because doctors are delaying treatment for cancer patients who test positive for COVID-19, according to the Uganda Cancer Institute(UCI).

According to doctors at UCI, they are pausing cancer treatment for patients as they first treat COVID-19. They say this is bound to affect treatment outcomes for patients.

Typically cancer diagnosed patients receive treatment on scheduled days and times to enable a systematic approach to handle the disease. Doctors recommend newly diagnosed patients to start treatment within days of diagnosis.

However, now when patients test positive, their treatment is delayed for at least 14 days until they can recuperate from COVID before they start or continue with cancer treatment.

Dr Victoria Walusansa, the deputy executive director at UCI says they are being forced to delay treatments to give the bodies of cancer patients the chance to fight off one disease at a time.

With such disruptions, management at UCI is worried about the effect this could have. Dr Jackson Orem, the executive director of UCI says cancer is not like other diseases whose treatment can be postponed.

“With cancer, delaying treatment for even three says can change the treatment outcomes. A patient who comes with few cancerous cells can report a week later when the cancer has spread. Normally, it is recommended to start treatment at recommended times,” he said.

Similarly, Dr Joyce Balagadde Kambugu, the head of pediatric oncology at UCI says the ongoing interruptions in treatment of childhood cancers are worrisome. The institute has registered more than ten cases of COVID-19 in children.

“This is worrisome. Any disruptions in treatment affect outcomes and this is something seen in all chronic conditions. Potentially, we are looking at a change in outcomes. Patients who could have had positive treatment outcomes might now get negative ones,” she said.

Dr Walusansa also says they are experiencing an increase in cancer patients.

According to doctors, the disruption of either chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer affects treatment outcomes by over 50 percent. A study published in the medical journal, the Lancet shows that delays in diagnosing or treating cancer can lead to increase in deaths.

For instance, the study showed that breast and colorectal deaths could increase to 7.5 and 15.3 percent due to delays caused by COVID-19. For other forms of cancer, the figure can go as high as 4.8 percent for lung cancers and 5.8 percent for cancer of the Oesophagus.

Annually, over 22,000 people succumb to different types of cancer according to UCI. With COVID-19 disruptions that might have led to delayed diagnosis and treatment interruptions, the number of cancer-related deaths is expected to rise.

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