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Delay in cancer treatment could sharply raise death risk: Study

This article is more than 12 months old

PARIS Delaying cancer treatment by just a month may put patients at a sharply greater risk of dying, according to research published on Wednesday. This is the latest research to sound the alarm over the coronavirus pandemic's impact on other health conditions.

Treatment delays happen in normal times, but the spread of Covid-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to healthcare services. In a new study published in the British Medical Journal, researchers in Britain and Canada found that delays in treatment - whether for surgery or other treatments such as chemotherapy - for seven types of cancers had a significant impact on patient mortality.

"There has never been a systematic attempt to look at all the evidence on what delays in different types of treatment mean for cancer patient outcomes," said co-author Ajay Aggarwal, a clinical oncologist and Associate Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

"Because we know this is happening to cancer patients during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is essential to understand the real impact."

The study found even a one-month postponement could mean a patient had a 6 to 13 per cent higher risk of dying. The longer the wait for treatment, the higher the risk.

The research suggests "for the majority of the major cancers and treatments, there is no 'safe' treatment delay", Prof Aggarwal said.

Researchers estimated that a delay in surgery of 12 weeks for all patients with breast cancer - during Covid-19 lockdowns and their aftermath, for example - would, over the course of a year, lead to 1,400 excess deaths in Britain, 6,100 in the US, 700 in Canada, and 500 in Australia.

Dr Justin Stebbing, Professor of Cancer Medicine and Medical Oncology at Imperial College London, said it was important to balance Covid-19 risks with those associated with delays.

He added that research he co-authored this month in the Journal Of The National Cancer Institute suggested that hospitalised Covid-19 patients with cancer had a sharply higher fatality rate than those without cancer.

"This is a very complex, evolving and difficult situation as we clearly need to protect vulnerable cancer patients from Covid-19," he said. - AFP