Covid-19 & Cancer
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected virtually the entire planet, and cancer patients are no exception. People with cancer tend to be more susceptible to infections in general due to their cancer treatments and due to the cancer, itself. So, does Covid-19 affect cancer patients? Studies have shown that patients who have cancer have a higher Covid-19 fatality rate than those without cancer. It also appears that patients with cancer who were recently treated with anti-cancer therapies such as chemotherapy had a poorer outcome than cancer patients who had not received recent treatment. It is important that all cancer patients take precautions against Covid-19 including social distancing, mask wearing, and vaccination as recommended by the patient’s care team.
Another way the pandemic has affected cancer patients is that it reduced the number of patients being screened. One report showed that compared to pre-pandemic rates, screenings for breast, colon, prostate and lung cancers during the peak pandemic period of April 2020 were lower by 56-85%, depending on the type of cancer. Experts are bracing for an increased number of cancers diagnosed in a later stage due to the decrease in screening, and likely resulting in more cancer deaths in the upcoming years. Now, with a better understanding of how Covid-19 spreads, the development of vaccines and treatments, screening rates are returning to normal.
Cancer treatments also decreased during the early Covid period, both to increase access to medical care for Covid patients and also to reduce the possibility of exposure for cancer patients. During the peak pandemic period surgeries for colon and prostate cancer and for chemotherapy decreased significantly. It remains to be seen if these decreases will affect the outcomes of cancer patients.
In 2020, Covid-19 became the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer. Disruptions in health care during the height of the pandemic will likely result in patients diagnosed with higher stages of cancer and a subsequent future increase in cancer mortality. As cancer patients are more susceptible to Covid-19 infection than patients without cancer, they must take steps to limit the possibility of infection.
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