The Nova Scotia Health Authority’s cancer care program makes decisions daily, trying to best balance patient safety with existing resources.
“We are going through an unprecedented period,” said Dr. Drew Bethune, medical director of the provincial cancer care program.
“We are doing our best to be as innovative as possible, so it is extremely necessary, unfortunately.”
The changes include:
- Delaying certain surgeries.
- Colon cancer prevention program suspended.
- Cancer patients can no longer bring a support person to most appointments.
- Radiotherapy patients are now receiving higher doses, less often.
“It’s really, very, very difficult. Cancer patients are at a time when they need it most, “said Bethune.
He points out that cancer patients have compromised the immune system, which puts them at an extremely high risk of developing serious medical complications if they contract COVID-19.
“Cancer surgery is not elective … but many surgeries must be delayed,” he said. “There is no option because we have to preserve our equipment without knowing how many COVID-19 cases we will be handling in a week or two, three or four. “
One of their main goals is to minimize contact and face-to-face meetings. In doing so, Bethune said it limits the number of chances a cancer patient can be exposed to the virus. All patients are called before their appointment to make sure there are no COVID-19 symptoms.
The pandemic also pushed the cancer service to accelerate the changes that were already underway. Doctors meet with their patients almost as much as possible.
The radiation program tested a new treatment model called hypofractionation.
“These are higher doses per fraction and with our new high-precision radiation therapy machines, it is possible,” said Bethune. “We are doing this advanced therapy now and we were doing it before the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are accelerating it. “
Bethune said the department meets daily to see if changes will be implemented. All updates are posted on the Nova Scotia Health Authority website.
One of the changes means that patients cannot bring a support person to their appointments unless it is an initial appointment where they are diagnosed.
Patients undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy will need to use digital devices to connect with their loved ones.
It is not known when the changes will be canceled.
Bethune recognizes that changes are difficult, and even said that the visiting rules are draconian, but they have no other option.
He asks for patience as they continue to make difficult decisions and said that physical remoteness has played an important role in protecting the lives of Nova Scotians, especially cancer patients and workers. front line health.
The Canadian Cancer Society said it has seen a 25% increase in the number of people seeking advice and support.
“This raises many questions and concerns around the question:” What does this mean for me? What does this mean for my diagnosis? Does this become the kind of collateral damage from COVID-19? Said Kelly Cull, director of Atlantic public affairs for the Canadian Cancer Society.
“Such a difficult time for all of us”
She said health workers have had to make “impossible” decisions in the past few weeks.
“There are no good solutions here,” she said. “It is such a difficult time for all of us, but for people living with cancer, there is just a different and special level of vulnerability. “
She said the organization is busier than it has ever been, trying to provide as much telephone and online support as possible.
“We are doing our best to reduce anxiety and limit feelings of isolation during these very difficult times,” said Cull.
There are over 400 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Nova Scotia.