Cancer and COVID: Avoiding delays in treatment and research saves lives and families, including mine

I want the best possible shot for everyone who, like me, has faced and continues to face cancer during the pandemic.

One in five American households had to defer necessary medical care during COVID-19. Delaying cancer diagnosis and treatment can mean life or death. (Pxhere/Creative Commons)

As a new year begins, I am acutely aware that nothing of what I am here with my toddler son and my family is for granted. Without chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy for breast cancer during the first months of the pandemic, I would now be very sick – or possibly dead.

After being diagnosed in October 2019 with invasive ductal carcinoma, I was fortunate to continue receiving treatment despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the world and the resulting shutdowns to slow the transmission of the virus. virus and preserve scarce medical resources.

While the direct human toll of the pandemic is undeniably tragic, at the same time cancer patient care has been negatively impacted here in the United States and internationally.

A new study shows that with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, patient care systems across the country are under strain. Compared to a 2018-2019 reference, new diagnoses prostate, lung, bladder and colorectal cancers among the veteran population served by the Veterans Health System dropped by 13 percent in 2020. Colonoscopies decreased by 45 percent in the VA system.

Pressures on the health care system include the diversion of financial and human resources from research towards the cancellation of so-called elective cancer surgeries. During the continuing surge of variant-driven COVID-19 cases, One out of five American households have had to postpone necessary medical care. Of those households unable to access care for serious medical conditions, three out of four report experiencing negative health consequences.

Delaying cancer diagnosis and treatment can mean life or death.

When I was first diagnosed with primary breast cancer over two years ago, I was five months pregnant with my son and had waited three weeks for medical imaging. Around this time, my tumor grew rapidly, going from barely noticeable when I pressed deep into my upper left breast to painful and tender with a mass almost four centimeters.

After the breast ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy on the same day, the radiologist said to me, “The important thing is that you are here.

There was an estimated 9.4 million cancer screening gap for breast, colorectal and prostate cancers in 2020 compared to 2019, the year I was diagnosed with myself.

Many were unable to receive emergency medical imaging at the start of the pandemic. the number of people entering for diagnostic and screening imaging fell in the first part of 2020, as did clinic visits for cancer care.

Screening rates were down more than 90% for breast cancer alone in April 2020. Although screening rates rebounded, there was a estimated cancer screening gap 9.4 million for breast, colorectal and prostate cancer in 2020 compared to 2019 when I had my own diagnosis.

The breast surgeon and the medical oncologist met with me after hours. I left the downtown women’s hospital well after dark at the end of a long day of follow-up tests and meeting with these doctors with a treatment plan. I was in the IV chair for my first chemo session with my port-a-cath newly placed in my still swollen right chest less than two weeks later.

Everything that mattered.

My tumor was grade three, which means it was growing very quickly. It had already spread to at least one lymph node under my left armpit by the time I was diagnosed, which means it had found the on-ramp to the rest of my body.

My son was born healthy in January 2020 as reports of novel coronavirus began to emerge from Wuhan, China. By the time he was two months old, much of the world was shut down under various lockdown and stay-at-home orders. I continued to receive weekly chemotherapy treatments as safety protocols changed with each visit.

My tumor responded well to neoadjuvant chemotherapy and I completed treatment on schedule. For that, I cannot thank the medical and support staff enough.

For nearly two decades, oncologists have reported that delays in treatment, from the time of first symptoms and also from diagnosis, can lead to poorer outcomes for patients with breast cancer, among other types of cancer.

It’s another calamity player alongside the horrors of COVID-19. Fear of the virus, among other factors, has leads to a fall in people seeking care for symptomatic cancers, this is how, like me, most people are diagnosed. The country’s doctors are finally reporting patients go to the emergency room with more advanced cancers, some terminal diagnoses that could have been avoided if patients had been able to access care sooner.

Doctors across the country are reporting patients eventually showing up to the emergency room with more advanced cancers, some terminal diagnoses that could have been avoided if patients had been able to access care sooner.

Early screenings in the pandemic the National Cancer Institute for Breast and Colorectal Cancers has suggested nearly 10,000 additional deaths from these types of cancer alone by 2030 due to pandemic delays in diagnosis and interruptions in treatment. According to the American Cancer Society, these projections, which assumed a return to normal conditions after six months, were too optimistic. As with COVID-19, disparities have had a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

A diagnosis of COVID-19 can delay a cancer patient‘s treatment if they themselves test positive for the virus. In a large clinical trial of people with high-risk early breast cancer, 4.5% of participants experienced a delay undergoing treatment due to COVID infection.

Cancer patients, especially men, those over the age of 65, with hematological malignancies (blood cancers), among other factors, are at higher risk serious illness if they catch COVID-19.

The pandemic has also diverted resources away from research into the next generation of possible breakthroughs in cancer treatment. In the UK, cancer researchers have reported average delays in their research six months.

Along with the decrease in funding, the UK Cancer Research Institute study found that cancer researchers surveyed believed global delays in research advances by an average of 17 months due to the pandemic.

COVID-19 remains a top public health priority. But with one in six cancer deaths around the world, as a society we all lose when research funding, personnel and other resources are diverted from cancer research and treatment.

It’s been over 50 years since the passage of the National Cancer Act of 1971, when former President Richard Nixon declared “War on Cancer” by increasing investment in research and creating new cancer research centres.

From 1989 to 2018, breast cancer deaths in the United States decreased by 41 percent due to advances in early detection and more effective treatments. Global annual cancer mortality rates decreased by 31 percent from 1989 to 2018, largely due to reduced smoking and improved detection and treatment methods.

Cancer research funding cuts threaten to derail future progress. The American Cancer Society halve spending on new research in 2020from $100 million to $50 million.

I still live under the shadow of cancer and I’m in remission – I hope to stay that way. I want the best possible shot for everyone who, like me, has faced and continues to face cancer during the pandemic, however varied our diagnoses and experiences may be.

During the first months of the pandemic, I was immunocompromised by chemotherapy and could not see my friends and family in person except for my husband and infant son.

As this new year begins, I will hold my loved ones a little tighter and remember those who are no longer with us.

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