“Cancer patients are immune-compromised, a potential high risk population to contract Covid-19”

Covid-19 pandemic has been a roadblock in treating cancer patients and for oncologists too. Read the interview of an oncologist to know how doctors and healthcare sector is fighting with the current situation

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Kolkata: As per data collected from various State Health Departments the number of Covid-19 cases in India crossed 80 lakh last month. The total cases of Covid-19 in West Bengal as on Novmber 15 was reported to be 4,09,221 with 3,907 new cases while the active cases  went down to 34,021 and the discharge rate has gone upto 89.89%. There has been a rapid transformation in the healthcare system as Covid-19 pandemic tends to magnify pre- existing diseases, especially cancer. In order to avoid mortality, optimal standards of cancer care and therapies are needed to be maintained to provide positive outcomes. Dr Kazi S Manir, well-known clinical Oncologist speaks to eNewsroom about how the Covid-19 pandemic has been a roadblock in treating cancer patients and for oncologists too in West Bengal are fighting with the current situation and providing the best possible treatment. Below is the excerpt.

eNewsroom: How is the pandemic linked to the rising cancer cases?  

Dr Manir: For several reasons, incidence of new cases are on the rise in our country for a couple of years which has no relation with the current pandemic. But due to the Covid crisis, treatment of many other major chronic diseases related to heart and kidney have been seriously affected. Cancer surgeries are getting postpended while radiotherapy, chemotherapy treatment are getting either delayed or interrupted. Cancer treatment is lengthy and needs a multimodality approach (Surgery/Radiotherapy/Chemotherapy) in major cases. Any interruption or delay ultimately leads to progression in disease. So currently, we are observing a sharp rise in advanced cancer cases in our day to day practice.

eNewsroom: How services in oncology have transformed to provide consultation, therapy and surgery while shielding the patients from contracting Covid?

Dr Manir: It is really a challenging situation for oncologists worldwide. It took time to strategize and streamline oncology services. Cancer treatment is neither elective which can be delayed nor emergency but it is essential. Cancer patients are immune-compromised, a potential high risk population for contracting Covid in severe form.

What we did is triage, encouraging patients for online consultation after completion of treatment for follow up. There are separate follow up clinic for patients who need physical examination to avoid mixing up with other patients. For new patients who need diagnostic or treatment we are trying our best to reduce their duration or frequency of hospital stay/visit. Radiotherapy is a daily treatment which runs for 5 to 7 weeks so depending on the cases we are adopting alternative shorter radiotherapy treatment schedules. In selective cases for chemotherapy we are adopting 3 weekly chemotherapy cycles instead of weekly chemotherapy cycles. For any planned procedures like cancer surgeries we are routinely doing Nasal Swab for Covid-19 testing prior to surgery. Cancer patients usually have separate wards, there is less chance of contracting the disease from other patients.

eNewsroom: Comment on the overall cancer care scenario in West Bengal.

Dr Manir: West Bengal has comprehensive cancer care facilities both in private and government sectors. The state has advanced surgical equipment like surgical robots, radiotherapy machines like advanced generation linear accelerator machines and other facilities as well. We have excellent trained doctors, staff, technologists both in government and private clinics. Few hospitals have their own lab and clinical research infrastructure also. Currently advanced cancer facilities are also coming up in districts and towns too.

eNewsroom: Which type of cancer will be majorly at the risk of contraction and complication due to Covid?

Dr Manir: Almost all cancer patients have a little bit higher risk of contracting Covid than general healthy people because cancer hits the immune system and in some situations, cancer patients become more susceptible for infection. Patients undergoing chemotherapy have less number of white blood cells, a crucial backbone of our immune system. So they are more prone to get any infection. They are at a high risk for Covid infection and severity. Same is also true for blood cancers or lymphnode cancers like leukemia or lymphoma where patients are usually immune compromised. A major section of cancer patients are aged people with other chronic diseases like heart diseases, lung diseases, diabetes which makes them more susceptible to Covid infection.

eNewsroom: Your suggestions for a healthy happy and cancer free life.

Dr Manir: Do regular physical activities, pick up sports, yoga or indulge in small activities like brisk walking so that the body is healthy and fit. Consume healthy nutritious food, green vegetables and seasonal fruits to boost up immunity and prevent cancer. Any type of addiction like alcohol, smoking, tobacco along with fast food, carbonated drinks and excessive stress should be avoided. Mental peace also plays a crucial role in leading a healthy cancer free life.

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