One in seven patients ‘missed cancer surgery during Covid-19 lockdowns’

20 October 2021 - 10:49
By Kgaugelo Masweneng
One in seven patients missed cancer surgery during Covid-19 lockdowns.
Image: 123RF/Xmee One in seven patients missed cancer surgery during Covid-19 lockdowns.

One in seven cancer patients around the world missed out on potentially life-saving operations during Covid-19 lockdowns, a new study shows.

Planned cancer surgery was affected by lockdowns regardless of the local Covid-19 rates at that time, with patients in lower-income countries at the highest risk of missing their surgery.

Dr Christo Kloppers, head of acute-care surgery at Groote Schuur Hospital and part of the department of surgery at the University of Cape Town, said there was a need for various strategies as part of a surgery recovery campaign.

“Care for Covid-19 patients moved the resources away from other pathologies, like cancers. In addition to difficult access to overburdened health facilities during the lockdown, in Groote Schuur Hospital alone we have lost more than 1,000 elective operating lists by focusing care on the pandemic,” he said.

Recently published in The Lancet Oncology, almost 5,000 surgeons and anaesthetists from around the world worked together to analyse data from the 15 most common solid cancer types in 20,000 patients across 466 hospitals in 61 countries.

Patients awaiting surgery for more than six weeks during full lockdown were significantly less likely to have their planned cancer surgery. Frail patients, those with advanced cancer, and those waiting for surgery in lower-middle-income countries were all less likely to have the cancer operation they urgently needed, found the research.

“Our research reveals the collateral impact of lockdowns on patients awaiting cancer surgery during the pandemic. While 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 James Glasbey, co-lead author from the University of Birmingham.

Glasbey added that “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, flu or other public health emergencies”.

Aneel Bhangu, co-lead author from the University of Birmingham, said the most vulnerable patients to lockdown effects were those in lower-income countries, where capacity issues that were present before the pandemic worsened during lockdown restrictions.