Kate Oldfield – Head of Personal Injury and Medical Negligence – discusses how cancer patients have been (or could be) effected by Covid-19.

The Lancet Oncology is a monthly journal for clinical cancer specialists worldwide.  Within the July 2020 edition, an interesting article considers the effect Covid-19 on patients with cancer.

According to global cancer statistics, there were an estimated 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.6 million cancer deaths worldwide in 2018. Sadly, these millions of patients with cancer are more susceptible to this disease than the general population.  They are more likely to develop severe complications, as cancer and anti-cancer therapies, such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery suppress a patient’s immune system.

In this urgent situation doctors have to consider the clinical features, risk factors and outcomes of patients with cancer and weigh them against the risks of Covid-19.  The more advanced the tumour the more serious the risk.  Should anti-cancer treatment be postponed during the Covid-19 pandemic? On the one hand we have to consider the pressure upon our health services, but this may lead to patients with cancer having reduced access to hospital and an inability to receive necessary medications in a timely fashion.

The Lancet reports that all aspects of cancer treatment have been affected from not only screening, referral and clinical testing and diagnosis but treatment and follow up of patients with cancer.

More worryingly a report from the Netherlands has shown a decrease in cancer diagnosis during the Covid-19 pandemic with the overall rate of cancer diagnosis decreasing by 27% from January 6th to March 2nd 2020.  Perhaps patients are anxious about being exposed to the virus in a healthcare setting and might struggle to consult with a General Practitioner in the midst of strict social distancing and lockdown policy.  Treatments for people with cancer are therefore being delayed.  As a result, some patients are at an increased risk of disease progression and tumour relapse or even death whilst waiting for treatment.

Extreme caution is therefore called for when doctors consider delaying life saving cancer therapies.  Postponing cancer care needs to be considered in the light of all implications. The Lancet suggests that patients should be categorised into low, moderate or high risk of disease progression.  Lung and pancreatic, acute leukaemia and highly aggressive lymphoma should be treated without delay.  For others, delaying therapeutic intervention might be considered but only if such a modification of treatment will not affect the long-term outcome.

If your cancer treatment has been delayed as a result of Covid-19 or your diagnosis has been delayed, then our Medical Negligence team maybe able to assist you.

For more information, please contact me via kate.oldfield@dbf-law.co.uk or call 0161 832 3304.

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