In yet another illustration of how the pandemic wreaked havoc on medical care, a new report shows that 15% of adult cancer patients worldwide didn't get potentially lifesaving surgery due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
"Our research reveals the collateral impact of lockdowns on patients awaiting cancer surgery during the pandemic," co-lead study author James Glasbey said in a university news release.
Whilst lockdowns are critical to saving lives and reducing the spread of the virus, ensuring capacity for safe elective cancer surgery should be part of every country's plan to ensure continued health across the whole population," said Glasbey, a researcher from the University of Birmingham in England.
"In order to prevent further harm during future lockdowns, we must make the systems around elective surgery more resilient -- protecting elective surgery beds and operating theatre space, and properly resourcing 'surge' capacity for periods of high demand on the hospital, whether that is COVID-19, the flu or other public health emergencies," Glasbey added.
For the study, the international team of more than 5,000 surgeons and anesthetists analyzed data from 20,000 adults with the 15 most common solid cancer types, who were treated at 466 hospitals in 61 countries.
During full COVID-19 lockdowns, one in seven patients -- 15% -- didn't undergo their planned surgery after a median of 5.3 months since their cancer diagnosis, the findings showed.
Only 0.6% didn't have their scheduled surgery when there were less stringent pandemic-related restrictions.
But patients awaiting surgery for more than six weeks during full lockdown were significantly less likely to have their planned cancer surgery, the researchers reported.
The investigators also found that patients in lower-income countries had the highest risk of missing their surgery, according to the study published online this week in The Lancet Oncology journal.
"The most vulnerable patients to lockdown effects were those in lower-income countries, where capacity issues that were present before the pandemic were worsened during lockdown restrictions. Patients in these environments were at highest risk of cancellation, despite being younger and having fewer co-morbidities," said co-lead study author Aneel Bhangu, also from the University of Birmingham.
"Whilst we only followed patients that underwent a delay for a short period of time, evidence from other research suggests that these patients may be at higher risk of recurrence," Bhangu added. "To help mitigate against this, surgeons and cancer doctors should consider closer follow-up for patients that were subject to delays before surgery."
The American Cancer Society has more on cancer surgery.
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