COVID-19 Disrupted Cancer Care in Every Aspect - Indian Medics on Predicted Spike in Cases

New Delhi (Sputnik): From having one of the highest cancer rates in the world, to developing breakthrough technology for the treatment of chronic disease, India has come a long way. However, a health scare arose when the Indian Council for Medical Research predicted that the country will see a 12 percent spike in cancer cases by 2025.

Not just the pandemic, but the diversion of government and media attention from serious diseases like cancer and people's hesitation to visit hospitals due to fear of contracting the virus has put medics on the edge in India. Medical experts predict that this may result in a huge number of additional deaths from cancer all over the world in the coming years.

Dr T. Raja, Senior Consultant Medical Oncologist, Apollo Cancer Centre, tells Sputnik that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted cancer care in every aspect.

"The pandemic scare has led to delayed diagnoses and treatments. This can lead to stage migration of the cancers and poor outcomes, including near disruption of useful clinical trials", Raja informed.

Cancer facilities in India have documented more than a significant dip in patients seeking cancer care, along with the number of people turning up for preventive cancer screening during COVID times. In the US, the infection spread has disrupted preventive tests such as mammograms and colonoscopies, which have declined by over 80 percent.  

Spike in Cancer Cases

The latest National Cancer Registry Programme Report 2020 has revealed that from the predicted 1.3 million cases this year, the toll will increase to 1.5 million by 2025. 

Dr (col) Ranga Rao Rangaraju, chairman of the Paras Cancer Centre, Paras Hospitals in India's Gurgaon, tells Sputnik that in a country like India, as per the natural history of cancer in industrialised nations, the incidence will continue to rise for some more time until it stabilises and goes to a decrescendo, like in developed countries.

Explaining the reason behind this rise, the doctor said, "Basic causes are lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, alcohol, obesity that contribute to many cancers. Changing food habits to consumption of low fibre food, junk food, leaving a healthy traditional diet, less fruits and vegetables is another important reason".

The report also points out that in 2020, tobacco-related cancers have been estimated to be the highest, comprising 370,000 (27.1%) of the total cases. 

To this, Dr Rao adds that India has the second-largest tobacco using population in the world, after China, and tobacco use is the most important single cause, being related to over 18 types of cancers.

"Tobacco-related cancers account for about 25% to 30% of cancers, 30% cancer deaths overall, 80% in lung cancers, in India. So, in India, with current increasing trends of tobacco use, we are likely to witness an increase in tobacco-related cancers for next two decades, at a rapid pace", said.

India's north-eastern states have recorded the highest number of cancers related to the use of any form of tobacco. The proportion was found to be higher in men. The most common cancers in India are related to the lungs, mouth, stomach, and oesophagus.

Through a Survivor's Lens

Although the definitive cause of cancer eludes the patients, they are often left physically and mentally shaken. The painful and tedious treatment process often takes a toll. However, there continues to be inspiring stories of survivors which give hope to other fighters to not give up.

Sharing her reaction, Shuchi Malhotra, a cancer survivor and school teacher, tells Sputnik that her husband was more shaken than her upon reading the report and she was strong enough to handle it with the support of her family.

"Post the procedures that you go through, you start asking yourself why me? One of the beautiful answers offered during a counselling session, which stayed with me was: because you could handle it".

Shuchi was diagnosed with breast cancer, early third stage, in 2015 and it was followed by immediate surgery and chemotherapy. Now, she is on hormone therapy which will last for the next five years.

On being asked how the entire process changed her as a person, she denies going through any dramatic paradigm shift towards life and treated it as a phase that has now passed.

"I had long beautiful hair and it's all gone. But I still post my pictures. When people act surprised, I say I don't have a choice. I cannot sit and cry about my hair. Now I have to keep going and take care of myself", she said with a sense of determination in her voice.