Experts reveal Covid-19 pandemic adversely affected breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, management

Introduction of newer treatment modalities has significantly improved the survival rate of breast cancer patients.

breast cancer diagnosis, treatment, management, Trastuzumab, WHO, radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy
Cancer patients are at a significantly higher risk of getting infected with Covid-19 since their immune system can be compromised.
Experts have revealed that Covid -19 pandemic followed by frequent lockdowns adversely affected breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and management.

“Even after several advancements in cancer research, prevention, and treatment the world is still fighting with the burden of cancer. At present, the world is going through a cancer pandemic wherein it is predicted that one in 10 Indians will develop cancer during their lifetime. The situation is evolving, and pragmatic actions will be required to deal with the challenges of treating patients, while ensuring their safety and well-being,” experts have suggested.

While talking about the scenario, Dr. Atul Batra, Associate Professor, Department of Medical Oncology, AIIMS, Delhi said, “Among women, the total incidence of cancer was estimated to be 7,12,758 in 2020 and is likely to reach 8,06,218 by 2025. In fact, breast cancer is expected to be the most common site of cancer by 2025. The choices for cancer treatment have widened. Usage of the drug Trastuzumab (benefitting about 3000 patients) and ado-trastuzumab emtansine (benefitting over 1700 patients) in India has proved to be a boon in the treatment outcomes. This innovative drug has been backed by years of clinical data.”

During Covid-19, women living with breast cancer continued to pay the price due to the impact of the pandemic. Early treatment of the symptomatic patients should, therefore, be priority expert suggests adding that in severe cases, delayed diagnosis could lead to fatal outcomes.

Dr. Sainath Bhethanabhotla, Senior Consultant, Care Hospitals, Hyderabad said,“Currently,  women who are diagnosed with this disease have more treatment options in comparison to the past and the same is curable. The treatments are radiation therapy, surgery, or both combined. Chemotherapy is often used as an additional, adjuvant and neo-adjuvant treatment,”

Covid-19 changed breast cancer care across the globe. It also delayed many aspects of breast cancer care, including routine clinical visits, surveillance imaging, routine mammograms, reconstruction, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, mastectomy and chemotherapy. The absence of in-person visits to the oncologists and fear of contracting Covid-19 caused stress and anxiety in the patients. This sometimes resulted in discontinuation of existing treatment regime and increased disease severity.

Cancer patients are at a significantly higher risk of getting infected with Covid-19 since their immune system can be compromised. Therefore, different healthcare facilities of all types and scales are taking new steps to keep patients and staff from getting Covid-19.

Some breast cancer treatments can weaken the immune system and the patient become more immunocompromised, which can also lead to lung problems. People who have weakened immune systems or lung problems have a much higher risk of experiencing serious complications if they are infected. Delaying in treatments or diagnosis can further lead to metastasis (spread) to different part of the body.

Dr (Prof.) Meenu Walia, Senior Director, Max Institute of Cancer Care East Zone (Max Patparganj, Vaishali, Noida, Greater Noida) said, “The incidence of metastatic breast cancer (MBC) has been reported to be approximately 5% to 25% from various centres in India. While the novel coronavirus has caused much havoc in the recent past, breast cancer has remained a predominant illness and continues to impact the lives of numerous people. It is important to understand the risk factors and treatment options, along with the significance of early detection of breast cancer to avoid further spread of the cancer cell in other parts of the body.”

In 2020, breast cancer in women has now surpassed lung cancer to become leading cause of global cancer incidence. Covid- 19 has impacted breast cancer patients by not only increasing the chances of infection but also created a gap in treatment procedure. Therefore, delay in starting treatment and breast cancer care, might further lead to the next stage of cancer and reach to the metastatic stage. Metastatic cancer is stage four advanced breast cancer that spreads to other parts of the body like the liver, lungs, brain, or bones, as well as to lymph nodes.

Introduction of newer treatment modalities has significantly improved the survival rate of breast cancer patients. But for that early detection and timely treatment is the key to cure. So, breast self-examination and early referral to clinician is pivotal.

In women, breast cancer is the second most common cancer. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer and accounted for 685,000 deaths globally, in 2020.  In India, one woman is diagnosed with breast cancer every 4 minutes and one dies every 8 minutes due to breast cancer.  Furthermore, the effects of delay in treatment due to pandemic situation can be seen on breast cancer patients.







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