Mankind is going through tough times fighting the worst ever health crisis “COVID-19 pandemic”. During this crisis not only health workers, but also patients suffering from cancer struggle more than ever before to maintain continuum of care. The influx of a large number of COVID patients requiring isolation and intensive monitoring has led to overloading of health care thus leading to disruption of routine treatment of cancer patients who constitute an especially vulnerable population.
India has a huge burden of cancer cases with approximate 1.5 million cancer cases being diagnosed every year. In last few months there has been many challenges faced by cancer patients such as fear and anxiety amongst elderly in visiting hospitals, unable to access social support during lockdown, financial crisis due to loss of jobs and salary deductions, suspension of clinical trials and cancer screening packages, difficult access to sample collection/rapid reporting of RT PCR in many states, requirement of COVID RT PCR testing for planned admissions and surgeries. All of the above issues did put many hurdles in front of cancer patients and their care givers to deliver timely oncology care.
Oncology centers across the nation rapidly reorganized their services to maintain the continuity of care. Prioritization and triage as per stage and aggressiveness of cancer, staying connected with patients through tele medicine, adopting chemotherapy protocols requiring less frequent visit to hospitals, using modern radiotherapy techniques which reduce the overall duration of treatment, stringent sanitation protocols in OPD area/ day care/ radiation machines, usage of PPE to protect the task force, vaccination amongst oncology patient both on active treatment and surveillance, communication and counselling did to a great extent overcome above hurdles.
COVID 19 has catalyzed a virtual pivot which will change oncology practice in India during post pandemic era. Learning from our experience in handling COVID and Cancer together in the past oncology community in India shall adopt certain new practices for the future. Significant use of tele consultation for following cancer patients who have concluded their treatment, economic viability and social implications of the treatment choices offered to our patients, emphasis on safe and strict infection control practices both for staff and patients, decentralization of oncology services from tier one to tier three cities, COVID-19 vaccination to all oncology patients are few mantras to my mind which can help us overcome the back lock of new cancer cases on one hand and handle COVID 19 & CANCER together for any further pandemic waves in near future.
In the meantime, we live on hope, practice masking and social distancing, continue to take optimal precautions and look forward to being vaccinated safely and quickly.