“You wonder where some of these cancers are. Some of them are missing in action, ”said Dr. Antoine Eskander, surgeon-oncologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto.
“We don’t know where they are. We have seen a drop in cancer incidence rates, despite a very consistent rate of cancer diagnosed in Ontario over the past three, four, five, 10 years.
Part of the problem is that people don’t go to their doctors to be checked or tested for fear of getting sick with COVID-19.
By the time they present, experts say, their cancers are at a much more advanced stage.
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Coronavirus: Doctors concerned about low cancer screening rate in Ontario during pandemic
“So when you say COVID has had a profound implication in the delivery of cancer care, it’s huge,” said Dr. Lucy Gilbert, director of gynecological oncology at the McGill University Health Center in Montreal. .
“We are seeing a lot more patients in what we call advanced unresectable stages.”
It’s a story that’s all too familiar to Diane Van Keulen. Although the 61-year-old was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer before the outbreak of the pandemic, during the summer of 2020 she began to become increasingly ill.
Unbeknownst to Diane, her cancer treatment was not working. But because of COVID-19, she was too afraid to go to the hospital for help.
As a result, some of Diane’s tumors have tripled in size.
“I was my worst enemy. I refused to enter for four weeks, ”Van Keulen told Global News. “My body, you know, just got more broken. What would have happened if I had entered early? “
“Would I be less at risk of progression? Because cancer does that. Cancer progresses over time. “
HHS fears some cancers go undiagnosed due to canceled or missed appointments
Diane’s story and others like hers are exactly what worries Dr. Gilbert. Despite COVID-19’s strict safety protocols, she said some patients who need help are staying away.
“People are so afraid to go to doctors. The likelihood of catching COVID-19 from a healthcare facility is miniscule. “
“So please report the issues in time.” Do your tests on time. … I would like this message to be broadcast.
This is a message that many cancer associations across the country are also trying to get across.
“We encourage everyone to be diligent in their cancer care. Follow up with your health care providers if you need to be screened or treated, and don’t delay if you have possible cancer symptoms, ”said Tawny Barratt, communications director of Bladder Cancer Canada, in an email. .
“I try to respect people’s fear. … But what I learned is that fear gets you nowhere, ”said Van Keulen, who is currently taking oral cancer medication to fight the disease.
“You have to weigh the pros, the pros and the cons. In my case… (there was) a lot more downside to waiting while I was learning my lesson.
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A recent US study found that nearly 10 million cancer screenings were missed in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The study, published in JAMA Oncology, looked at the three cancers for which early detection is essential: breast, colorectal and prostate. All three have declined sharply, but the most significant was a 90% drop in breast cancer screenings in April 2020.
One of the authors is Dr. Ronald Chen, Director of the Radiation Oncology Department at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
“As a doctor, I was not surprised to see that screenings have declined, but this study measures by how much,” Chen said at a press conference. “This study clearly shows that this is a major public health problem.”
At home, Canadian researchers are still collecting data on screening tests, new diagnoses and cancer surgeries to understand the full scope of the puzzle.
Pandemic worsened care gaps and resulted in 30% fewer cancer diagnoses: Alberta doctor
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Dr Eskander is one of them. He said he saw a 60% drop in surgeries for cancer during the week of March 15, 2020 in Ontario.
“Over the next few months, we had a six percent surge increase per week, but… we never hit the pre-pandemic cancer surgery rates,” Dr. Eskander said. “It was observed in the same way for biopsies and for imaging. And cancer is not something that can wait.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, from March to June 2020, cancer surgeries declined by 20% across the country.
But for those who were sick enough to have their cancer surgery immediately during COVID-19, there were trade-offs.
Oliver, the seven-year-old son of Dawn Pickering, was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare form of blood cancer.
To survive, he would need a stem cell transplant. Pickering said health officials have turned to Canadian Blood Services to verify the international stem cell registry.
“They found three perfect games. So we really felt like we won the lottery which was pretty amazing, ”she said.
The relief was short lived. Around this time, Canada went into lockdown. Oliver’s matches were international and due to travel restrictions and COVID-19 issues, they were unable to donate.
The family were forced to turn to their daughter, Abby, who was in the half-game.
“It certainly stressed me out a bit because now I don’t have just one sick child, but a second child who I have to make sure is protected and nothing happens to him,” Pickering said. .
“My parents didn’t press me at all,” said 11-year-old Abby Acosta-Pickering. “His life was in my hands.”
“I was like, if it was Ollie, he would definitely do it for me because my brother is a very kind, compassionate and empathetic guy and he was always there for me,” she added.
After many painful procedures and numerous COVID-19 safety precautions, Abby was able to donate.
“She was really nice to me and now that I’m fine we’re going back to sibling fights,” Oliver Acosta-Pickering told Global News.
Oliver is doing a lot better these days. But he is one of the lucky ones who were able to fall back on his family for a donation. Other cancer patients have not been so lucky when it comes to finding a match.
“I would say COVID ruined everything,” said Sylvia Okonofua, president of the Stem Cell Club chapter at the University of Regina.
Okonofua works tirelessly to get more black Canadians to sign up and donate stem cells. However, the pandemic has made recruitment particularly difficult.
“We’ve only had, say, a thousand stem cell donors recruited instead of receiving tens of thousands in previous years,” she said.
“Black Canadians make up less than 2% of the Canadian stem cell donor registry,” Okonofua said.
These stem cell pairings can be crucial for cancer treatment. Experts therefore encourage people to learn more and to register. Even though the country is still in the third wave, health workers are doing everything they can to keep people safe.
“I know they are taking adequate steps to make sure everyone is safe… going through the donation process,” Okonofua said.
See this and other original stories about our world on The New Reality airing Saturday nights on Global TV and online.