World Cancer Day: cancer care in a global pandemic

Every year, World Cancer Day is marked on 4 February. This year was no different – despite the changes in the way it was observed during a global pandemic, with events going online.

The focus for 2021 was ‘Together, all our actions matter’, with the intention of showing that “our actions have an impact on everyone around us”.

However, this year is going to be significantly challenging for cancer patients as the fallout from Covid-19 continues to be felt.

Early detection and the importance

World Cancer Day went some way towards highlighting the challenges people with cancer are facing during the pandemic. People are having tests and treatments delayed, potentially leaving them in a worse position.

Early detection is key to improving the chances of surviving cancer. In addition, the earlier the disease is identified, the fewer and less serious the side effects of treatment can be.

This makes screening hugely important to the early identification and treatment of cancer. But because of the pandemic, many people have had their screening invitations and follow-up appointments delayed.

Screening may be for people who are otherwise healthy and who are not showing any symptoms of cancer, but it’s important to remember that it can save lives.

The seriousness of the situation

Cancer Research UK has assured people that “cancer services are an absolute priority for the NHS”. However, it has also acknowledged that the “rapid rise” in Covid hospitalisations is putting more pressure on the hospitals.

It has also pointed out that if a patient’s cancer treatment is less urgent, it could be delayed. Although these treatments will go ahead as soon as it becomes possible, by the time they are being seen, the seriousness of someone’s condition may have worsened significantly.

Late last year, Macmillan Cancer Support produced a report into the impact of the pandemic on cancer care. The organisation pointed out that there were 50,000 people who were missing cancer diagnoses – putting them “at risk of becoming the forgotten ‘C’ of the coronavirus crisis”.

The long-term impact

The long-term effect of the pandemic on cancer care will only be seen in the months and years to come.

Survival rates are measured in years, so we are a long way from knowing exactly how significant the impact of Covid will be on cancer care.

The vaccine rollout is bringing hope that things will return to normal this year. Until then, people with cancer will still have to rely on a hugely stretched healthcare service.

Image copyright: venusvi